Saturday, October 31, 2015

Just in time for Halloween: Dracula


Another guest blog by Eli Y. Jack….

Over the years, a number of parties have been very interested in buying West-Park Church.  It appears finally that someone has succeeded. And the neighborhood is rightly to be concerned.

In the recently concluded of Dracula staged by  the Three Day Hangover company in McAlpin Hall, Bram Stoker’s story has been updated. The story has been updated to the present day and the Transylvanian count now wishes  to relocate to New York City, known for its acceptance and inclusion of anyone who is different. And the property his real estate agent has located for him is none other than West-Park Church.  Right next door to the asylum. I must say that Pastor Brashear has often suspected as much.  The speech where the suitability of the church for Dracula’s needs is painfully a propos, even while drawing laughs from its humor.

Not having seen a Three Day production before, I was wary. But the cast and overall production quickly won me over. Steven Dietz’ script respects Stoker’s original while cleverly playing with today’s fleeting cultural norms and expressions. Kristin McCarthy Parker’s direction leads the cast through a journey that runs from almost slap stick humor to drinking game to drama without ever losing the narrative throughline. And she never falls into farce.

The concept for the production is to move it from Victorian London to New York right now and instead of Carfax Abbey, Dracula has chosen West-Park  as his new home. (The thought that a real estate agent would sell this long beleaguered church to a vampire has its own metaphoric humor.) And, as we said, the asylum is right  door. (Proabably not the ‘20’s era condo next door where manse used to be, but if you take Capital Hall, the church’s northern neighbor, well, just maybe…). And as other companies before them, Three Day has discovered the old church as a character in its own right, referencing its diminished congregation and name checking the booming young Korean afternoon congregation, the swung dancers in the gym , and well, vampires in McAlpin.

Dracula also take sits place in West-Park’s history of immersive plays beginning with Woodshed’s dazzling the Tenant, which reopened the space.  Anachronisms like cell phones  fit right in.

The cast was uniformly strong from Michael Borelli’s near perfect post communist era eastern European oligarch playboy to Paul Kite’s playing of Renfield like a Shakespearean jester. Jonathan Yario’s Harker and Jonathan Finnegan’s Seward hold their own. But the women really shine. Miranda Noelle Wilson’s heated Lucy would demand serious attention in any Upper West Side yuppie bar and  Nemuna Ceesay as her bff  Mina hits all the right notes. But the real show stopper is  January La Voy (from the soap One Life to Live) as Professor Van Helsing,or in this case, Professor Van Yuengling, the result of a lucrative product placement naming deal. (Yes, it works)

Most amazing, the production manages to take us from riotous laughter to an actual experience of horror.

And there’s this…just when I was ready to accept Dracula as just a very well done Halloween season diversion, one critic alerted me to the  theme of  fear of the other. And I get it. Whether it's the swelling tides of  refugees in Europe or Donald Trump’s wish for a non-leak wall along the US-Mexico border, the fear is the same. What will these outsiders with their heavy accents and alien cultures do? They will drain our life’s blood and suck us dry. There is that. So Dracula continues to be more than a diversion in West-Park’s ongoing  offering of arts experiences  that explore that intersection of ethics and esthetics.  Without taking away any fun at all.

I confess a long fascination with theatrical takes on the Dracula story with special appreciation for Tulsa's American Theatre Company's straight horror take to Actor's Theatre of Louisville's annual production. Three Day's is right in there in its own unique niche. 

Thanks to Pastor Brashear for inviting  me along for the ride.  Hopefully he’ll bring me along for Three Day’s next venture, Tartuffe.

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