REVIEW: Rowan’s “Dracula” brings haunting novel to life onstage

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Keeping with the department’s “Season of Horror” theme as well as the Halloween season, one could only expect gore, vampires, death and heartbreak from the Rowan Theatre production of “Dracula.”

Running this past weekend and Thursday through Sunday at Tohill Theater, “Dracula” is not for the faint of heart. A cast of 16 brings Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel to life in a delightfully haunting way.

Junior theater major Charlie Barney takes on the role of Robert Benfield; the bizarre, misunderstood character is brought to life perfectly. Although the audience will laugh with some of the character’s actions, Barney understands the reasoning for Renfield’s existence and plays to it perfectly.

Margaret Sullivan, portrayed by Illeana Fortuno, is seemingly a minor character when she first appears, leading Abraham Van Helsing into Dr. Thomas Seward’s home.

However, Fortuno’s experience as a senior theater major shows, as her character is sweet yet tough when she’s to act on her own accord, but plays into her character’s changes when Dracula possesses her. She’s integral to the story’s plot and Fortuno does an excellent job providing comic relief at times to the otherwise dark tale.

The character of Van Helsing, played by senior theater major Russell Palmieri, is particularly well done. His intelligent, calculated and careful characterization is brought to life wonderfully by Palmieri.

Van Helsing, after all, drives much of the plot when he’s the first to suspect Lucy Westphal’s illness is from an outside source. Palmieri clearly understood this and fully embraced the difficult role.

Sean McGovern was exceptional in conveying Dr. Thomas Seward’s love-struck, horrified and frustrated nature. He’s lost his love, Mina Grant, to the Count. When Seward is forced to put a stake through Grant’s heart so she’s fully dead and no longer a vampire, hearts will grieve with the Doctor as he puts an end to the misery of someone he loves.

Played by Courtney Jarmush, Lucy Westphal was a bold female presence in a predominantly male show.

Westphal’s illness is the central cause of action, and Jarmush understood her despair without overplaying it. When Westphal becomes possessed by the Count, she does an excellent job at expressing duality between these two separate people.

Westphal’s love interest, Jonathan Harker, is a man who simply wants to marry his fiancé. Portrayed by Matthew Basen, Harker’s actions are mostly inspired by Westphal, who he’d very clearly do anything for. Basen embraced this well.

Although Count Dracula has already been referenced, I would be remiss not to pay a heavy tribute to Robert Mora, who played the Count. The character is creepy, without remorse, sneaky, selfish and a million things more.

Mora demonstrated not only these characteristics, but an ability to assert his character’s dominance without words. He expertly commanded the audience’s attention each time he was on stage and did not let it go until he exited.

This point is not to underscore the monster, Norbert Briggs, Mina Grant, the child or brides of the show. The cast, along with the dark and intense scenes they portrayed, would not be complete without these characters.

Ultimately, the co-directors Elisabeth Hostetter and Tom Fusco clearly spent a lot of time putting this show together carefully, without cutting any corners. The cast’s stage directions were extremely calculated and well-executed.

When watching Dracula, the audience will learn to fall in love with this dark and creepy tale. Playgoers will sympathize with those dying, suffering or even those half-living or dead.

In this classic story, the tales of vampires and those they affect live on, one astutely crafted and haunting stage direction at a time.

For comments/questions about this story, email arts@thewhitonline.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline.

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