‘Dracula’ at Bowie Community Theatre by Julia L. Exline

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Bowie Community Theatre presents Dracula, the Broadway play written in 1924 by Hamilton Deane and later revised by John L. Balderston, based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker. Staging one of the most beloved horror stories ever written is an intimidating feat, but Director Michael Forgetta pulls it off beautifully, and just in time for Halloween!

John (Jack) Degnan (Professor Abraham Van Helsing) and Pat Reynolds (Dracula). Photo by John Nunemaker.

Set Designer Daniel Lavanga frames the stage in ribbony velvet drapes, with the face of a large golden clock dominating most of the space. A second hand spins around the roman numerals of the clock, with the effect being somewhat hypnotic (a poignant nod to Dracula’s ability to control his victims minds). Victorian furniture, as well as odds and ends such as candlesticks and lamps, completes the dated setting of Dr. Seward’s Sanatorium. Lavanga also provides the special effects, my favorite of which has to be the wind that disturbs the delicate drapes whenever Dracula is nearby.

Lighting Designer Garrett Hyde does a fantastic job and is responsible in a huge part for the eeriness of the overall production. You only see what he wants you to see, shown in scenes with Dracula when, like lightening flashes, only snippets are shown, pieced together by anxiety-ridden dark spots. Sound Designer Dan Caughran utilizes sounds such as storms, shattering glass, howling wolves, and whistling winds to pull the scenes together successfully, and costumes by Linda Swann help to move along the plot, an example being a distressed character whose clothes become more and more tattered with every appearance.

When Dr. Seward’s (Mike Collins) daughter Lucy (Amanda Magoffin) falls ill with the same mysterious symptoms that recently killed another girl, he and Lucy’s anxious fiancée Jonathan Harker (Mike Hite) are at a loss for an explanation. In a desperate race against time, Dr. Seward sends for the eccentric Dr. Van Helsing (John Degnan), hoping for a fresh opinion. However, when Van Helsing shares his theory about vampires and focus’s his attention on the charming neighbor Count Dracula, the rational Seward scoffs at Van Helsing’s insistence that “superstitions of today are the scientific facts of tomorrow.”

Pat Reynolds (Dracula) and Amanda Maggofin (Lucy). Photo by John Nunemaker.

This uneasy situation becomes more complicated with energetic outbursts from one of Dr. Seward’s patients, R.M. Renfield, who hides a dark secret of his own. Gerard Williams is fantastic as the manic Renfield, switching from intelligently phrased rants to animalistic tantrums within seconds, and accompanied by a shrill, lingering laugh. Comedic release is provided by Renfield’s frustrated attendant Butterworth (Danny Brooks) and Lucy’s maid, Miss Wells (Mary Macleod). When Dracula (a haunting, charismatic Pat Reynolds) learns of Van Helsing’s suspicion, it becomes an all-out war between good and evil, with both sides possessing powerful weapons…but who will win?

Overall, the acting can use some fine-tuning. During my showing, there were unfortunate pauses to recall lines, as well as actors stumbling over their words and some lukewarm performances, (and I’m sure that will improve as the run continues) but that didn’t overshadow the fact that Dracula is one of the most iconic stories ever told for good reason – the plot is enthralling — and the stage elements of this production are extraordinary.

Get into the spirit of Halloween this season and pay a visit to Dracula!

Running time is approximately 120 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Dracula runs through October 13, 2012 at Bowie Community Theatre at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. To purchase tickets, call (301) 805- 0219, or order them online.