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Dracula show boasts a blood-thirsty libido

Dracula is given the rock star treatment in Red Deer College’s gripping version of the Bram Stoker horror story.

With dark tresses brushing his shoulders, Callahan New’s pale count bears more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp in the atmospheric production that opened with operatic flourish on Thursday at the Red Deer College Arts Centre. Only Dracula’s blood-thirsty libido — depicted with panting breaths, chafing embraces and wandering fingers — was more in keeping with the romance heroes depicted by Fabio.

The count’s sultry seduction of his intended female victims culminates in a scene in which Dracula rips his shirt open in Harlequin fashion, revealing his bare chest to helpless heroine Mina (played by Raegan Aleman with more modern spunk than the Victorian Stoker might have envisioned).

When hit with all this swoon-inducing virility, all Mina can do is fall into an anemic daze and succumb to his undead charms.

From hypnotizing looks to creaking windows, howling wolves and moonlit cliffs, this staging of the Steven Dietz play contains all of Stoker’s dark imaginings — and then some.

The craggy set, designed by C.M. Zuby, was appropriately imposing — as was the eerie soundscape created by Sui-Fan Wong and Calgary composer Jeremy Spencer.

Patrick Beagan’s dramatic lighting and Carrie Hamilton’s darkish costumes, allowing a splash of red for the count’s velvet waistcoat, also helped generate the play’s sinister mood without excessive use of stage blood.

Although the action starts out rather slowly in the London bedroom of Mina’s friend Lucy, guest director Haysam Kadri gets things moving along soon enough — particularly when the non-linear story gets to the blood-curdling experiences of English solicitor Jonathan Harker (Nathan Johnson) during his trip to Transylvania.

Harker’s sense of reality is gradually stripped away as his terror of the inexplicable grows. Johnson is believable as a man who no longer has a firm tether on the world he once knew.

The RDC Theatre Studies students are as outstanding in the acting department as they are in handling the technical side of this production. But, through no failing of the young cast, the play’s main problem is that it necessarily devotes a lot of stage time to Stoker’s archetypal British characters — who aren’t nearly as interesting as the enigmatic Count Dracula.

Of course, the big buildups surrounding all of the count’s entrances (cue: fog machine, red stage lights and ominous organ chords) help create audience anticipation. New is also mesmerizing in the lead role and the stage courses with energy whenever he’s on it.

Other memorable performances include Aleman’s Mina, who is no shrinking violet, Kirsten Harper’s tragic Lucy, and Daryn Tessier’s crazed, rat-eating Renfield.

Mitchel Roelfsema plays Lucy’s suitor and lunatic asylum director Dr. John Seward with a good grasp of conventional Victorian heroes, while Steven Pecksen’s Dr. Van Helsing maintains a credible Dutch accent while giving his English friends a long overdue lesson in Vampires 101.

Whether Dracula appeals to our fearful imaginations or our fascination with the idea of immortality, he wouldn’t have stood the test of time if he wasn’t an interesting character.

Kudos to the RDC cast and crew for serving him up, once again, with so much individuality and panache.

The run continues to Feb. 16. (It’s recommended for ages 14 and up.)



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