Dreadful, seductive, chilling — Dracula
Of all the fictional characters ever written, Dracula is arguably the greatest survivor.
Not only is the dreadful and seductive bloodsucker created in 1897 by author Bram Stoker immortal, but over the years he has shown a chameleon-like ability to morph into different guises to suit the times.
From the creepy, pointy-toothed creature of the post-First-World-War-era German film Nosferatu, to the impossibly beautiful and romantic Twilight vampires created in this video age by author Stephenie Meyer, Dracula has yielded different undead versions of himself again and again.
And Red Deer College’s upcoming production of Dracula will be no exception.
Director Haysam Kadri of Calgary said he intends to stick fairly closely to Stoker’s original Gothic story when the pale count conjured by Theatre Studies students treads the RDC Arts Centre Mainstage boards starting on Thursday.
There will be no Bela Lugosi-like stereotype depicted, with red-lined cape and a widow’s peak hairline. In this interpretation, Dracula will visibly rejuvenate from the ancient ghostly wreck that solicitor Jonathan Harker meets in Romania to a more vigorous — dare we say virile? — creature that follows Harker back to England.
“As he gets closer to the bustling streets of London, he gets more suave and good looking,” said Kadri, who noted Dracula will fill up during the journey on the blood of shipmates and will eagerly anticipate sinking his fangs into more necks once the ship docks.
The makeup tricks that will aid his transformation are among the many special effects being designed to send shock waves and chills through the audience when the play opens.
“This show is extremely theatrical. . . . It’s not for the faint of heart,” warned set and properties designer Cindi Zuby of Edmonton.
For one thing, students are creating vats of edible blood with chocolate sauce, corn syrup and red food colouring.
The play will also have an eerie musical “soundscape” composed by Calgarian Jeremy Spencer. And it will include an explosion, a spontaneous combustion, and several grotesque and gory deaths, promised Zuby.
Her crumbling castle set features a carved likeness of the real-life Dracula — Vlad the Impaler.
Prince Vlad III was a Transylvanian ruler of the House of Draculesti who lived in the mid-1400s. He developed a reputation for excessive cruelty, impaling thousands of invading Ottoman Turks on pikes — and Stoker drew on historical accounts of his life for the creation of his fictional count.
When Stoker’s chilling horror story is pared down to its most basic elements, Kadri believes that Dracula is really a tale of good versus evil.
In England, the count tries to mask his true nature by laying on the charm and sex appeal. Kadri said a major undercurrent of sexuality and lust runs through the original novel, as well as this faithful stage adaptation by U.S. playwright Steven Dietz.
The targets of Dracula’s seduction are Harker’s fiancée, Mina, and her best friend Lucy. Mina is particularly desired because her very goodness makes her blood most prized, said Kadri.
“Dracula is a tale that appeals . . . because he’s not just a guy who comes in at night and bites people’s necks for blood, he has a certain vigour and sexual attraction. He’s very charming and this doesn’t make him a typical vampire.”
The cast of 10 has been working to get across the right heightened mood for the play, said Kadri, who has been teaching students about melodrama and the ways of Victorian society.
Kadri is a sessional instructor at RDC who is making his directorial debut at the college. He’s artistic producer of The Shakespeare Company in Calgary and has been a company member with the Stratford Festival for six seasons.
RDC Theatre Studies production crews are having a blast building props for Dracula, including a “working” blood transfusion kit, a scary candelabra and bone chair, and 4,000 pieces of Styrofoam garlic. “We have to hang it all over the windows and doors on the set,” said Zuby.
Olds College design students are creating textural Victorian gowns, waistcoats and travelling cloaks in muted colours, as envisioned by costume designer Carrie Hamilton. Dracula’s “vixens” will wear filmy dresses that look both organically sensual and disintegrating.
The dilemma is “how do we get all the ‘blood’ out of the clothes?” said Hamilton, who is experimenting with various cleaning methods and fabrics.
Kadri believes the excitement level around this production is so high, in part, because vampires and zombies are hot commodities in youth culture. “The students are really into it,” he said, with a chuckle.