Dark Magic

The legend of Dracula, as created by Bram Stoker in his 1898 novel, has captured international attention for over a century and inspired retellings in a variety of media, most notably film. But the book, to be honest, is a bit of a mess. It is unclear who the protagonist is, as the naïve Victorian lawyer Jonathan Harker dominates the first half of the story, while his wife, Mina, plays the leading role later. Stanton Wood's adaptation The Night of Nosferatu, produced by Rabbit Hole and directed by the brilliantly innovative Edward Elefterion, deals with that duality masterfully. Wood turns Stoker's structural problem into a brilliant metaphor for the title character's (after)life of "boundary crossing," which makes him attractive to the boundary-constrained Mina. Previously presented by Rabbit Hole as two plays, the work is even stronger as an amalgam of conflicting halves.

That is not just a metaphor: in the combined piece's first act, the actors all wear black, and it deals primarily with Mina's mental exploration of Nosferatu's castle and confrontation with the vampire, as she telepathically follows Jonathan on a business trip to Transylvania. In Act 2, they wear white, while Nosferatu becomes a stranger in the exposed world of Mina and Jonathan's society and invites Mina, incarcerated in an insane asylum, to break boundaries with him.

This reviewer was mildly annoyed by one aspect of an otherwise insightful script: the constant declarations, in the first part, that Romania is a country of darkness and superstition, where ghoulies make themselves right at home but human beings would not want to visit. Having been there and seen some remarkably innovative theater in the city of Sibiu's annual International Theater Festival, I think that Stoker's assumption needs some rethinking.

Most of the cast are veterans of Rabbit Hole's productions of the two parts. The major exception is the role of Mina, now played with a lot of steel and passion by Tatiana Gomberg, who, last year, shone as another Gothic heroine in Theater 1010's Northanger Abbey.

Matt Cody reprises his wonderful Midtown International Theatre Festival performance as Nosferatu. The tall actor's stooping walk, gratingly gritty voice, alternatingly threatening and pained expressions, and undercurrent of empathy make for a truly memorable performance. Cody's mannerisms allude to legendary actor Max Schreck's in F.W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, but never merely mimic. As Harker, Paul C. Daily's Dudley Do-Right normalcy and naïveté contrast sharply with Mina's growing self-awareness and increasing identification with Nosferatu.

The humans' costumes are simple but effective, with the women's skirts suggesting the late-Victorian silhouette without going all out in period decoration. Nosferatu wears a long black overcoat that accentuates his hunched back. His hands and face are caked in white makeup, his ears are pointy, and his fingers are elongated into sharpened points, just like Schreck's. At the right moments, he and the other vampires display the obligatory weird teeth.

As in the previous presentations, the set consists of a black curtain. There are no props, and no recorded sound effects. The actors create the play's world with mime, manual and oral sound effects, and the creepy amber glare of hand-held lights. The revelation of Nosferatu in his coffin is accomplished by merely jerking back the curtain to reveal Cody, with artificially extended bleach-white hands crossed on his chest and a wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression.

With mise-en-scene like this, Wood, Elefterion, and the cast make powerful dark magic. Rush to see it before the sun rises and it disappears.

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