Play is a new adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
The mysterious title of “The House of Besarab” is an unnecessary obfuscation of the fact that this play is a new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” It’s an environmental production, where the audience follows various characters, a la “Tamara,” except that this show features two plot “tracks” as opposed to multiple threads. The two shows also share the same location, the Hollywood American Legion building, whose high ceilings, solemn chandeliers and dark hallways add a palpable sense of history to the proceedings. Although the experience of wandering through Dracula’s castle as the story unfolds is diverting, and the cast brings both fire and subtlety to their performances, Terance M. Duddy and Theodore Ott’s adaptation isn’t entirely effective.
In 19th century England, young Mina (Chase McKenna) has fallen into a waking trance. Her concerned fiance, Harker (Dane Bowman), requests the assistance of Dr. Van Helsing (Travis Michael Holder) and asylum director Dr. Seward (Terra Shelman). When all four receive an invitation from Dracula (Michael Hegedus) to visit his home in Transylvania, they accept, hoping to destroy the Count’s strange hold over Mina. Once there, the group is welcomed by Dracula’s odd assistant Renfield (David Himes) and the Count’s pregnant vixens (Sara Spink, Megan Harwick), and they also get to meet Slava (Jason Parsons), a villager chained to a wall. The heroic group prepares to do battle with Dracula, but the situation turns out to be more complicated than they expected.
Properly imposing as Dracula, Hegedus delivers a dramatic portrait of a man who’s sold his soul for love only to gain a bitter immortality. McKenna is equally good as Mina, drawn to the Count although she realizes he is a monster, and is exceptional in a vividly emotional speech in which she recalls a previous life incarnation and its unlucky fate. The role of Van Helsing is tricky — to some degree he exists to deliver exposition about Dracula’s powers and how to defeat him, setting up the supernatural ground rules of the play — but Holder is equal to the challenge, seizing on the character’s uncertainty and making his bravery more notable.
Bowman makes for a compellingly gallant and impetuous Harker, and Shelman offers a sympathetic Seward. Himes is unfortunately stuck with an odd rethinking of the role of Renfield. No longer a twitchy bug-eater, he emerges here as a quietly philosophical individualist, but he underplays the part to the point of dramatic inertia. Spink, Harwick and Parsons are fine in smaller roles.
Duddy’s direction is competent if not inspired, hampered somewhat by the stop-and-start nature of the environmental production.
The main problem with the show, however, is the adaptation, which skips the more obviously entertaining routes of offering scares or campiness by going for straight drama, which isn’t as good a fit for this walking-around-the-castle format. Duddy’s sets, Spink’s costumes and David Gibson’s music and sound design are all spookily evocative.