Khanh Doan as Mina in ACT Theatre's Dracula

Aren’t the special effects in theater almost always a little silly? ACT Theatre’s new take on Brahm Stoker’s Dracula isn’t an exception. The lighting is chiaroscuric, and the Count’s voice echoes over the sound system throughout, and he appears early on as a floating, withered mask (like a thawed Ice King). At certain point the stage’s white back wall bleeds. But none of it much frightened  me. The problem in a horror play is that, even though the actors here perform admirably, unlike in a book or movie, I don’t get suspended in eerie cultural subconscious. I can see the human hand holding up that floating mask.

Maybe, unlike me, you’re some ideal theatergoer, giving yourself over to the thing completely and this is a nonissue. Or maybe this distance frees you up to look at our eerie cultural subconscious with a measure of remove.

You can hang all sorts interpretations on Dracula (try Marx: “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour”) but its look at sex and predation is unavoidable. This new script from famed local playwright Steven Dietz is typically libidinal—among the play’s early moments is a talk about the heroine Mina’s puritanical desires—but Dietz tweaks the story’s gender roles.

Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako as Lucy and Brandon O'Neill as Dracula. 

The old arc goes like this: Dracula tries to bite Jonathan Harker, but doesn’t. Then some female vampires give it a go, but also don’t get Harker’s blood. Dracula bites Lucy. Lucy dies. Mina, Harker’s new wife, succumbs to Dracula and sucks some blood out of his chest. Some other stuff goes down. Then Van Helsing and another guy save Mina and kill the monster.

In ACT’s version Mina (Khanh Doan) shrugs off some of the standard damsel-in-undead-distress trappings. In his program note, Dietz writes that she becomes “both Dracula’s intended victim and Dracula’s foremost adversary.” That becomes clearest toward the end. If not a radical revision, it’s a fine shift, highlighting the novel’s discomfiting, contradictory, and subversive look at Victorian sex (the Count is at least blood bi-curious and women get to drink too) more than upending it. 

ACT has a blood drive on November 7 (blood’s been running low in Seattle). Seems like a fine opportunity to contemplate whether the horror schlock that accompany this Dracula onstage sucks some life from story or fortifies it. 

Dracula
Oct 18–Nov 17, ACT Theatre, $27–$87

Blood Drive at ACT
Nov 7, ACT Theatre, Free

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