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Waiting for Godzilla

Acting Violently

Review by Sean McQuaid

It's always a bad sign when your quibbler's watching a play and thinks to himself, "Y'know what this needs? A big rubber lizard. Yeah, that's the ticket...a rampaging rubber lizard would liven things up considerably."

Blame for such musings does not rest entirely with the play in question-other key factors include the quibbler's sordid love affair with Godzilla movies, and the fact that, during the play in question, the ailing quibbler was feigning a semblance of life only through the power of assorted cold medicines. That being said, lizard longings and the like seldom intrude upon the quibbler's thoughts unless the play in question is less than gripping-and Left Hand Theatre's March production of Acting Violently qualifies.

The show's biggest problem, as Dorothy Parker might put it, is that there isn't enough there there. Put less cryptically (and less pretentiously), it's an empty and ultimately unsatisfying effort. The execution is capable and intelligent on the part of both the playwright and the company, but it's all in the service of a fairly tired concept (says the man who enjoys giant lizards), and the execution isn't sufficiently innovative or entertaining to transcend that concept.

Written by J.J. Steinfeld, one of Prince Edward Island's most prolific and accomplished authors, Acting Violently is a play about a play: five actors (played by Lindsay Kyte, David Neatby, Steve Forbes, Tod MacLean and Erin Fagan) are staging a sometimes-scripted, sometimes-improvisational show written by an anonymous patron. Over the course of their performance, the actors and the audience are often unsure of who's who and what's happening as the line begins to blur between the actors and their characters, between performance and reality.

Steinfeld's script has its virtues. Some of the actors' "thumbnailer" monologues, their character sketches of themselves, are intriguing and illuminating. There are genuinely funny lines in the show, though these are undercut somewhat by predictable groaners (like the gag about actors who would kill for a part, hot on the heels of a character's murder). The text also has an admirably self-effacing awareness of its own anti-crowd-pleaser sensibility, with repeated references to how restless the audience must be.

Regardless, it's a tedious play. Steinfeld creates an intriguing assortment of characters, but he uses them for little more than two hours of repetitive bickering and introspection that gradually peters out into a handful of senseless deaths and an anticlimactic exit. Metadramatic musings on the nature of life and theatre can be fascinating, as can absurdist drama in general, but this particular exercise doesn't do anything terribly novel or compelling with those well-worn notions.

The cast, directed by Dean Constable and stage managed by Tammy Rose, all have their moments. Kyte and MacLean are probably the most consistently energetic and confident performers in a seemingly unsure and tentative cast. MacLean nets the lion's share of the laughs as the lewdly lusty Thad, a part he plays with disgusting gusto. Kyte is a sturdy foil for him as the oft-unimpressed Faye, but her ever-gesturing hands are one of several things that make an observer wonder, on occasion, if the cast is acting badly or doing a good job of portraying bad acting. None of this is helped by a seating configuration that offers less than ideal sight lines.

Acting Violently is not without merit. The issues it addresses, such as the nature of violence, are worthy of consideration, and Steinfeld ponders them with discerning wit. It's definitely smarter than the average giant rubber lizard movie...though nowhere near as fun.

Good Things Come in Threes


Theatre New Brunswick productions at the Jubilee Theatre

Review by Sean McQuaid

Three girls and three guys. Sounds like the latest uninspired TV sitcom, or maybe the roster for an especially unambitious orgy. In actuality, though, it's a lazy reviewer's shorthand for the casts of Theatre New Brunswick's two latest touring productions: The Attic, The Pearls & Three Fine Girls and The Drawer Boy, respectively-and both shows make a convincing case for the creaky cliche about good things coming in threes.

The Attic, The Pearls & Three Fine Girls is a sharp, touching comedy about the simultaneously cohesive and corrosive nature of sibling relationships. The three Fine sisters, Jo-Jo (Sherry-Lee Hunter), Jayne (Mary Ellen MacLean) and "baby sister" Jelly (Shelley Wallace) are reunited as adults to bury their recently deceased father. Dad is just about the only thing that stays buried, though, as old loves, hates, resentments, rivalries, heirlooms and assorted childhood memories & family secrets are unearthed during the sisters' reunion.

Originally produced by Theatre Columbus and collaboratively composed by a clown car's worth of writers (Jennifer Brewin, Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alisa Palmer and Martha Ross), TATP&TFG is a mercilessly funny and hauntingly insightful script; the love-hate relationships of the Fine sisters should strike at least one familiar chord with anyone who's ever been blessed (or cursed) with a sibling. It's a very human play, affectionately but honestly illuminating its characters, a play in which family is celebrated without being sanitized.

The TNB production's cast are all veterans of the physical theatre company Jest in Time, and it shows. It's a rare treat to see actors with more or less equal amounts of mental and physical agility, and their very physical performance helps create and sustain the show's relentless sense of momentum, a ceaseless energy shaped by director (and co-author) Alisa Palmer. There is no intermission, but the show flies by and, if anything, seems to end too soon.

The cast's ability to be both physically and emotionally expressive is invaluable in what proves to be a very expressionistic, even dream-like production, with transforming sets (based on versatile and deservedly award-winning designs by Dany Lane), evocative music (some of it composed by John Millard and Allen Cole) and moody lighting (courtesy of Andrea Lundy). Even the bridges between scenes, filled with music and sometimes fleshed out by pantomime, help convey mood or character or serve to advance the story in some way. It's a very rich, full and satisfying production, smartly constructed.

The Drawer Boy, directed by TNB Artistic Producer David Sherren, is a less artful and innovative production, but no less intelligent, entertaining or powerful. It's a simple tale (albeit underpinned by complex motivations), simply presented, and Sherren realizes its setting and characters with conviction and polish.

Written by Michael Healey, The Drawer Boy tells the tale of lifelong friends Morgan (Lee J. Campbell) and Angus (Brian McKay), who have been living and farming together since returning from their service in World War II, a service that emotionally scarred both men and mentally warped Angus. Into their strange, insular relationship comes Miles (Christian Barry), a naive young actor who lodges at their house to research farm life for a play. During his time there, the farmers teach him the meaning of hard work and friendship-and when he creates a theatrical interpretation of the two friends' lives, he unwittingly helps them rediscover truths about themselves and their relationship.

Jamie Atkinson's meticulously detailed set design and Chris Saad's capable lighting help Sherren craft a concrete and plausible farm space for the characters to inhabit, and the cast's performances are every bit as solid and credible. Barry is appropriately eager yet unsure as the callow thespian, Campbell is every inch the gruff, no-nonsense farmer, and McKay's Angus swings back and forth from benignly genial simpleton to a blank-eyed, vaguely troubled eccentric poised on the edge of a darker lunacy. Together, the TNB cast and crew have done ample justice to a wonderful, moving script suffused with humour and heart.

Cultural Exchange

The Mikado

Review by Sean McQuaid

With its January-February 2001 production of The Mikado, the classic Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera, ACT (A Community Theatre) serves its audience a saucily surreal slice of ancient Japan, generously garnished with sprinklings of present-day Prince Edward Island. It might not be the most seamlessly satisfying mixture since peanut butter and chocolate, but it's sufficiently clever and entertaining to quell most any craving for lighthearted theatrical fare.

The Mikado is set in a cartoonish fantasy approximation of ancient Japan, colourfully realized here by the costumes and set designs of Rachel Fitzpatrick and Frank Gaudet, respectively. The hero of the piece is Nanki-Poo (Darren Bryenton), son of Japan's emperor, known as the Mikado (Brian Ethridge). Posing as a poor minstrel, Nanki-Poo woos the lovely Yum-Yum (Claire Caseley Smith), but their romance seems doomed since she is promised to wed her guardian Ko-Ko (Ben Kinder), The Lord High Executioner. Complications ensue as the plots and counterplots thicken; but despite the longest list of death sentences this side of Dubya Bush's Texas, an improbably happy ending unfolds.

Perhaps the most distinctive and effective quality brought to this production by director Terry Pratt and company is a sense of playfulness: anachronistic in-jokes abound, and characters make entrances by such oddly unexpected means as skateboards and scooters. Touches such as these give the show a sense of anything-can-happen whimsy, though the topical references and modern-day name-dropping sometime seem tired or gratuitous.

The orchestra, under the musical direction of Owen Aylward, does lively justice to the score, as do the various singers. With his gently rich voice and soft physical presence, Bryenton is as benignly sympathetic a romantic lead as one might hope for, and Smith balances him nicely with an assertively frank performance. The delightful Kinder seems to revel in the sheer silliness and over-the-top self-indulgence of the impotently menacing Ko-Ko, crafting what may be the show's most entertaining performance, though he is also somewhat less audible than most of the other principals. Rene Hurtubise, though occasionally weak on articulation, has no problems with audibility in his role as leading citizen Pish-Tush; his foghorn voice and grinning, vacant comedic manner create an impression not unlike a musical mixture of James Earl Jones and Dan Redican.

Apart from Kinder, though, the sweetest scene-stealers are Brodie McRae and Lisa Carmody. McRae crafts an amusing portrait of  smug corruption and aristocratic snobbery as Ko Ko's self-important aide, Poo-Bah—and like Kinder, McRae seemingly manages to enjoy his role immensely without breaking character. Carmody, meanwhile, is one of the most lively performers in the bunch as both actor and singer, so animated as to catch the ear and eye even when she's not the primary focus of a scene—appropriate for her role as Yum-Yum's vampish, meddlesome, attention-starved sister, Pitti-Sing. Put simply, Carmody is fun to watch, as is McRae.

With strong dramatic and musical performances, lavish production values (by local community theatre standards) and a playful sensibility, ACT's Mikado is a worthy tribute to its authors, and another feather in the company's cap.

Seasonal Spectre

Ethan Claymore

Review by Sean McQuaid

Ever since Charles Dickens sicced a trio of sensitivity-training spirits on Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, the concept of ghosts on a Christmas mission of redemption has been an enduring part of our culture; but while many subsequent writers have conjured their own Yuletide phantoms over the years, few have managed to create something distinctively entertaining or memorable in the process. The spectre of Dickens looms large over Norm Foster's own Christmas ghost story, Ethan Claymore (recently presented at Summerside's Jubilee Theatre by Theatre New Brunswick), but the play, like its titular hero, has a quietly endearing impact all its own.

Ethan Claymore (played by Wally MacKinnon) is an egg farmer whose business and social life have both been withering away since his wife died years ago. His meddlesome neighbour, Douglas MacLaren (Walter Learning), embarks on a campaign to save Ethan from himself by forcing him to socialize, to celebrate Christmas, and to start dating again; Douglas pursues the latter goal by throwing Ethan at single schoolteacher Teresa Pike (Shannon McCaig), who does her best to coax Ethan out of his shell. Shy, stubborn Ethan seems determined to remain set in his reclusive ways, though, until his long-estranged, recently deceased brother, Martin (C. David Johnson), starts materializing with advice and encouragement from beyond. In the process, both brothers learn long-overdue lessons about life, about each other, and about themselves.

It's a small play in terms of its aim and scope (even relatively short in terms of running time), a modest little holiday heartwarmer about renewal and redemption. Much of its sentimental philosophy is hoary and predictable, and certain aspects of the ending take the easy way out (Ethan's financial troubles, for instance, magically disappear); but the show puts enough new spins on its old gimmicks to entertain, and injects enough emotion to be genuinely moving at times. Furthermore, Foster's evocation of rural community life gives the play an appealing sense of place, and his four main characters are all distinctive, endearing personalities.

Best of all, Foster's script has a playful sense of humour (which director David Sherren and his cast run exploit to good effect), an ability to laugh at itself that saves the show from being dominated by maudlin moralizing. Foster seems to particularly enjoy the possibilities inherent in the spectral state of Martin, who has more fun than all three of Scrooge's ghosts put together.

MacKinnon seems almost too flat as Ethan at first, but his deliberately low-key performance crafts a likable and believable portrait of the imperturbably decent Ethan-if it's a dull performance at times, the fault probably lies in Ethan being a relentlessly dull person. McCaig is a fine foil for MacKinnon as Teresa, all nervous good cheer and animated gesticulating, but the real showstoppers are Learning and Johnson. As Douglas, Learning is a gregarious, affectionately abusive old bear of a man, the personification of folksy, no-nonsense tough love. As the late Martin, Johnson is a sarcastic, smugly superior presence who functions effectively as both a comic nuisance and a tragic figure, whether he's making mischief with his supernatural powers or coming to terms with his inner demons; and since only Ethan can see or hear Martin, Sherren and his cast merit praise for how seamlessly Martin's words and actions mesh with the oblivious conversations of the living characters, most notably in Learning's and McCaig's impressive ability to utterly ignore Johnson's assorted antics.

The fluid interaction of the cast is only one of many finely polished details in this production-some of the others being a warm, richly detailed set by Jamie Atkinson, and a variety of novel lighting cues, sound cues and visual effects (Sherren and company do a particularly fine job of allowing us glimpses of the great outdoors through the windows of the Claymore household, whether it's a gentle snowfall or the violent lightning storm that accompanies one of Martin's darker trips down memory lane). If Ethan Claymore is typical of TNB's 2000-2001 touring season, Prince Edward Island audiences will have plenty of welcome theatrical gifts to open well beyond Christmas.

Left Done Right

A Left Hand Adventure

Review by Sean McQuaid

"A Left Hand Adventure" (a trio of one-act plays staged by Left Hand Theatre at the Arts Guild on October 18-21) is a small wonder: Outside of Me, Sleep Tight and Cowboy Mouth all employ small casts, minimal sets and modest production values to craft compelling short stories of people at odds with fundamental truths, with each other, and with themselves.

Outside of Me, written by Left Hand founder Jonathan C. Stewart and directed by Joseph A. Boyd, chronicles a soul torn between reincarnation and eternal peace. The play's irreverent take on the afterlife covers the same thematic ground Stewart worked in Nothing Like the Sun, but does so a bit more deftly and a bit less didactically, with a welcome sense of fun (though as in NLTS, there are some all-too-earnest moments). Miranda Tremere, however, seems ill-cast as the play's protagonist. In addition to a girlish performance style that sometimes undermines her character's credibility, Tremere's quick-and-quiet enunciation blurs her lines significantly-a dangerous tendency in a play that leans heavily on speechmaking. This combines with slow scene changes and repetitive music to make Outside of Me feel longer than it actually is.

The new one-man show Sleep Tight, written by Boyd and co-directed by Tremere and Todd MacLean, boasts a tighter script and a stronger performance: Boyd himself plays Adam, an embittered orphan coming to grips with the violent death of his parents. It's a raw, visceral show full of punch-in-the-gut emotional impact. This no-holds-barred approach is best exploited in Boyd's acting (an impressively persuasive portrait of conviction and intensity), but it goes astray at times in the script itself. Oft-crude rhetorical excess (such as a repeated survey of Adam's bodily orifices) comes off sounding as implausible and self-indulgent as it does harsh, and a less-is-more approach would serve certain lines well (Adam's references to stomach acid could work both literally and metaphorically, for instance, without being mired in a litany of bodily by products).

Boyd's script also tries a bit too hard to fill in the blanks for the audience at times, as in the passage where Adam interprets a dream that any thoughtful observer has already figured out, or the closing sequence where Adam tries to attach a moral and a mission of sorts to his story. These are isolated incidents in an otherwise strong script.

Rounding out the evening is a Boyd-directed version of Cowboy Mouth, the surreally autobiographical Sam Shepard show about a fanatic named Cavale (Tremere) who kidnaps a family man called Slim (MacLean) at gunpoint and tries to remake him into a musical saviour, "a rock-and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth." Despite the criminal context and their mutually abusive behaviour, Cavale and Slim fall in love with each other while holed up in their squalid hotel room (a thinly veiled re-imagining of Shepard's infamous affair with Patti Smith, with whom he co-wrote the play). The "happy" couple's masochistic fantasy life is interrupted and ultimately subverted by the Lobster Man (Boyd), a seafood delivery man who first appears as a literal lobster-man but later morphs into the superstar of Cavale's dreams, taking Slim's place (shades of Harold Pinter).

It's weird material, ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to quietly disturbing, and Boyd's production does it justice. MacLean manages to combine predatory intensity and childish vulnerability in a very engaging performance, while Tremere is surprisingly, effectively creepy as Slim's mad seducer (Shepard's more compact and natural lines of dialogue play to Tremere's vocal strengths). Boyd never completely comes out of his shell in a somewhat understated turn as the Lobster Man, but his direction is sturdy; in particular, he and the rest of the cast deserve kudos for the ease with which they navigate the claustrophobic clutter of their set-one of many nice little touches in an evening of small wonders.

What the Fred?


ACRONYM

Review by Sean McQuaid

Are you tired of life making sense? Were you one of those kids who loved to torture insects or small animals? Do you like your theatre weird, spooky and nigh-unto-incomprehensible? If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, ACRONYM might well be your hallucinogenic cup of tea.

Written and directed by Mickey Acorn with technical direction and stage management by Evan Brown, ACRONYM was produced at the UPEI Barn (November 9-10 & 16-17) by Acorn and Christian Gavard under the banner of Oakseed Productions, which bills itself as a group dedicated to combining the enthusiasm and innovation of independent theatre with the discipline and organization of professional theatre. If ACRONYM is any indication, their reach does not exceed their grasp.

The story (if you can call it that) features four men who may or may not be doctors or test subjects or secret agents or all of the above, all participating in some sort of experiment in a sealed room. The roles, identities and memories of the four men seem to shift from scene to scene as they take turns playing pairings of doctors and patients, tormentors and victims. Sometimes the characters are aware of these identity shifts, sometimes not, and neither they nor the audience can ever be entirely certain of what is real.

The results are occasionally entertaining (Acorn's script is often thought provoking and sometimes quite funny), though not exactly groundbreaking-a lot of what ACRONYM does will be familiar to fans of existing absurdist drama. Echoes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead abound, for instance, and characters variously endorse or denounce a mysterious organization known as the P.L.O.T. in a metadramatic, metaphorical nod to this play's simultaneous acknowledgment and rejection of conventional narrative.

While its thematic content is somewhat shopworn, ACRONYM distinguishes itself through its stylish and inventive execution: the characters share a quirky vocabulary unique to themselves, notably constant references to a drug called Halaparadol (which may or may not be causing some or all of the characters to hallucinate), and the amusing substitution of "Fred" for a more infamous four-letter word in all the dialogue; omnipresent, hypnotically repetitive background music manipulates mood and adds weight to the visually and sometimes verbally sparse scenes; an in-the-round stage layout allows the actors to address the audience as if it were a set of walls or observers hidden beyond the walls; a disembodied computer voice provides a Big Brother presence reminiscent of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey; and clever synchronizations of dialogue, blocking and set pieces create tableaux in which something happening on one half of the stage is replicated or reflected on the other half of the stage. The cumulative effect of all this is a very surreal, dream-like and vaguely threatening atmosphere...think of it as "Acorn in Wonderland."

Speaking of Acorn, the four men are played by him, Gavard, James Philip Hogan and Josh Weale. All four actors have to ride an emotional roller coaster as their characters' personalities and situations transform over the course of the play, and all four do a very fine job. If nits must be picked, Hogan takes a while to hit his stride in terms of both projection and enunciation, while Gavard & Acorn sometimes seem to be rehashing the "buddy" dynamic they've done together before in Players (though it works well enough here, too, and their comic chemistry provides some of ACRONYM's most entertaining moments). Josh Weale, on the other hand, is a revelation; he seldom has an opportunity to show this much range, but he does his comrades proud here with a confident, credible and well-rounded performance. No fifth wheel, Robin Hewitt rounds out the cast as an eerily dispassionate, nurse-like woman who periodically appears to facilitate the mysterious experiment.

With a strong cast, creative presentation and a self-deprecating sense of humour that deflates much of the show's pretentiousness, ACRONYM is a worthwhile theatrical experiment-not to mention a showcase for the freakiest brainwashing techniques this side of The National Post's political coverage.

Have Wand, Will Conjour

The Conjuror's Suite

Review by Sean McQuaid

Theatre is alive. While seldom as visually spectacular as its cousins film and television, live theatre offers an unmatched immediacy and, at its best, a sense of wonder. Nothing taps that sense of wonder more effectively than a magician; an artist who not only performs before in the presence of an audience, but whose performance consists of amazing and mysterious feats. Even knowing these feats are illusions or "tricks", one cannot help but be impressed by their practitioner's skill, the ability to make the unreal seem real with relative ease. Stage magician David Ben is one such practitioner, and The Conjuror's Suite is a spellbinding showcase of his mystifying talents. 

One of the world's finest sleight-of-hand artists, Ben found a partner in Patrick Watson, the respected journalist and broadcaster who is also an enthusiastic amateur magician. Their first collaboration was The Conjuror, which Ben and Watson co-wrote; that show cast Ben as an early Twentieth Century master magician debuting at the celebrated St. George's Hall, during the so-called golden age of magic (1895-1914).

The Conjuror's Suite, like The Conjuror, is a Ben-Watson script, directed by Watson and performed by Ben; but this time, Ben is not playing a specific character and the show is not set in a specific time or place. This one-man show's setting is "an abstract representation of a Salon," wonderfully realized by designer Ed Kotanen's cosily cartoony, dreamlike set. Late Victorian and early Edwardian high society would invite master magicians to create Salons of magic in their homes, thrilling small audiences with an up close-and-personal experience of the magical arts. The Conjuror's Suite, performed in small venues like the Confederation Centre's Studio Theatre, strives to recapture the intimacy and interactivity of Salon magic.

While the Salon classics (such as card tricks) and the golden age of magic are the pervasive underpinnings of Ben's act, his repertoire includes pieces culled from throughout the history of magic. These can range from the beautiful (his artful impression of a Japanese snowfall) to the bloodcurdling (Houdini's East Indian Needle Trick, which has Ben swallow twenty-five sewing needles and six feet of thread before he regurgitates the needles…threaded); and even the well-worn standards, such as the Chinese linking rings and the cups-and-balls routine, are performed with sufficiently endearing charm and impressive virtuosity to entertain the most jaded audience.

Ben's tricks often entail audience participation, too, giving the patrons an even closer view of magic in action and making it harder for unbelievers to remain sceptical. This interactive approach fosters a good deal of improvisation, and Ben`s wit is usually equal to that challenge. The result is a spontaneous, intimate show that treats magic reverently while never taking it too seriously. For all his melodramatic posturing, Ben's tongue is seldom far from his cheek, and the spectators are all the more appreciative for being in on the gag.

A former lawyer, Ben has been studying and practicing his magical craft for over twenty years, and has developed a scholarly command of magical lore; he shares this knowledge with his audiences in a light-hearted anecdotal style that both informs and entertains, placing his tricks in historical context.

Nitpickers may note that the show relies rather heavily on card tricks (albeit very well done card tricks), and that only the patrons in the front rows get the full benefit of closely observing Ben in action (though he offsets this to some extent by recruiting assistants from all corners of the audience); however, Ben's elegantly good-humoured showmanship and perplexing powers of illusion are more than enough to make most misgivings disappear.

Stake and Cheese

Dracula The Undead

Review 
by Sean McQuaid

Since its genesis as Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula has been endlessly resurrected through a host of imitations and adaptations in various media, firmly establishing Count Dracula as the definitive vampire character . In fact, the story has been revived and revamped (sorry) so many times over the decades that any new version faces some scary challenges: doing something new with an old story, measuring up to past versions, and bleeding thrills & chills out of a subject that has become almost too familiar to evoke horror.

Left-Hand Theatre's Dracula: The Undead doesn't fully succeed at any of the above, though it takes a fresher approach than most. The script, adapted from Stoker's original story by Patrick MacMaster, is written around Dracula rather than about him-the title character spends most of the play offstage, while his various victims and enemies take up the dramatic slack. This approach seems to aim for an eerie atmosphere of psychological horror, and sometimes it hits the mark-but more often, the show lapses into turgid melodrama, endless exposition and flashes of unintentionally funny B-movie cheesiness.

MacMaster's script is faithful to the basics of Stoker's story, and it does some justice to characters such as Dracula's pawn Renfield and vampire hunters Doctor Seward and Professor Van Helsing. Most of MacMaster's characters develop little personality beyond their plot functions, though-and this, coupled with reams of expository dialogue, makes for a rather boring talkfest. Events are often recounted after the fact rather than depicted (thanks largely to Dracula's offstage status), important plot points (notably the existence and significance of Harker's connection to Dracula) are given little or no setup before their payoff, and the story advances at a glacial pace-several scenes could have been combined or compressed to good effect. Even some of the characters seem expendable-the pointless Quincy Morris, for instance, could be purged from the play without losing anything of value.

Director Joe Boyd's cast and crew muster an uneven effort marked by uncertain cues, unremarkable blocking, and an unappealing set (the flats in particular look like a Grade-D shop class project and accomplish little beyond further undermining the audience's suspension of disbelief-no flats would have been better than bad flats, and the dark void of a backdropless background might have actually enchanced the show's mood). That being said, a fog machine and Tim Gormley's innovative, ambitious sound design salvage some semblance of an eerie atmopshere.

Much of the acting is forgettable or best forgotten, but there are noteworthy performances. Jodi Hawkins shines all too briefly as the sunny Lucy, Boyd is a solid though somewhat tedious Van Helsing, and Gormley invests the role of Seward with both strength and vulnerability, crafting one of the better-realized performances in the show. The most vividly memorable performance comes from a genuinely creepy Evan Brown as the mad Renfield. His vampire master, alas, is far less spooky: in his early silent appearances as a cloaked and hooded figure, Dracula (Todd MacLean) moves with all the mystery and menace of a milkman, making his over-the-top antics at the end of the show seem all the more excessive by comparison.

There are moments of brilliance amidst the silliness-the opening scene, for instance, is a genuinely chilling (though perhaps overlong) voice-over account of Dracula's bloody sea voyage to England, delivered over the dimly lit, broken body of the ship's captain. The rest of the show seldom lives up to the promise of that first scene, though, and the result is perhaps the weakest of the various Dracula plays staged at the Kings Playhouse over the years. Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of the coffin.

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