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    Travel to the small, peaceful town of Purley, England in the 1800s. It is a charming, ordinary town, full of life and love. That is, until the arrival of a certain infamous count from Eastern Europe.

    For the nineteenth consecutive year, Actors Theatre and Fifth Third Bank present a chilling adaptation of Dracula, Irish writer Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. Louisville’s annual showing of Dracula has become a Halloween tradition, and it is the only yearly show of its kind. The reason behind its success is not difficult to understand: from the moment the lights dim until the last seconds of the final scene, the cast and crew of Dracula transform a smaller theatre into a harrowing vampire hunt.

    First dramatized by John L. Balderston and Hamilton Deane, this adaptation of Stoker's novel was written by William McNulty. He also directs Actors Dracula and plays the knowledgeable professor Van Helsing. McNulty's adaptation, while different than the book, is still energetic and gripping even after years of its performance.

    The play opens with the repeated, unnerving whisper of, "He's coming!" from unseen voices around the theatre, accompanied with the eerie effect of red swirling mist. The following chase scene between Dracula and Mina, his lovely victim, raised a few gasps from the crowd. The haunting music set the scene to perfection, and literally set the stage for the thrilling battle between living and undead. 

    The actors carried the energy from the opening scene through the whole performance. Not only is each individual actor fantastic, but they also play off each other well. Renfield, played by Marc Bovino every year since 2007, is notable for his hilarious, half-crazed actions, often providing much-needed comic relief. But it is his interactions with the other characters, especially his caretaker Mr. Briggs, that make his scenes truly memorable. All the actors, whether “living” or not, seemed completely at ease with their character, so much so that it was easy to become immersed in the story.

    Of course, the actors had help in their spectacular performance. Especially in horror, the sound and lighting crews are essential. The subtle lighting changes that occur whenever someone speaks of Dracula give off the perfect dark vibe associated with malevolent supernatural creatures. The dim lighting used when the nocturnal count appears on set to wreak havoc is of course expected, but nevertheless has an impressive gut-wrenching effect. A scene during the second act between Dracula and Van Helsing in which the lights go out was particularly well-done; the intermittent light that follows leaves just enough to imagination.

    The creative use of the speaker system provides just the right amount of auditory compensation when the theatre is black. Randolf Curtis Rand’s magnified voice as Dracula while the lights are on is fittingly creepy. But the utilization of localized speakers around the theatre can be even more terrifying. At one point, it seemed that the entire theatre collectively jumped due to the clever manipulation of the speakers. This, paired with the lighting effects, help create a believable, hair-raising tale.

    It says a great deal about the talent of the cast and crew that a small space is transformed so thoroughly into a plagued English town and Dracula's castle in Transylvania. The props are not overly complicated, although the amount and quality of the fake blood used is convincing. The actors use all available space, even above the doorways and in the upper aisles. For this production, a well-utilized smaller space is ideal. It allows the actors to energize the whole theatre and for the actors and the audience to feed off of each other. It also makes the show an unforgettable experience, since the actors surround the audience and often break the invisible fourth wall between them.

    Dracula is not a play for the faint-hearted, especially in front row seats. While it is not frightening in the same way as our modern, action-driven movies, there are plenty of undeniably scary scenes. The live theatre also makes certain events more real and sinister than their on-screen counterparts. In addition, it is refreshing to watch a threatening vampire after pop culture’s idea that vampires are more sexy than dangerous. However, in the end, Dracula is not so terrifying that anyone should lose sleep.

    You can get your photo taken with some of the actors to support their apprentice program. This is me attempting to look scary.

    To book tickets to see Dracula, go here or call 502-584-1205

    . It is running now though Halloween.

    Photos courtesy of: Actors Theatre of Louisville facebook and their Drac Attack flickr

    Rebecca Ball's picture

    About Rebecca Ball

    As great lover of books and adventure, I grew up wanting to be anywhere else. I satiated some my wanderlust in the castles and expansive forests in Europe over the past few years. Now, I live in the city that will always be home with a cat who thinks she's a person.

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