Cinema/TV, Dracula

Your Daily Dracula – South Bay Musical Theatre – Dracula (2020)

Your Daily Dracula – Aly Suleiman, South Bay Musical Theatre – Dracula (2020).

Given the way things have gone this year, I suppose this was inevitable – a Zoom Dracula.  In fact, it’s one of several competing Zoom Draculas … so watch out for more of them in YDDs to come.

Mounted by the South Bay Musical Theatre of San Jose, California, this is an adaptation of a stage version of the Bram Stoker novel written by Stephen C. Wathen in 1983 – which does a decent job of shaping the unwieldy material to the theatre, taking in a few cues from previous stage adaptations (confrontations in drawing rooms!) and rearranging the characters so that the knot of folks who cluster around Mina and Lucy are almost all on the staff at Dr Seward’s Purfleet asylum.  Quincy changes sex and becomes a matronly Mrs Morris (Jennifer Noel Medeiros); this production further casts women as Dr Jack Seward (Sabrina Sonner) and one of the handymen (Barbara Heninger, with stuck-on moustache), though the characters seem to stay male.  As you’d expect from a community-based theatre, diverse casting decisions which would draw attention in a movie are just part of the deal – Dracula (Aly Suleiman) is middle-eastern and the English and Dutch characters include a variety of Asian and Latinx players, who mostly (and wisely) don’t attempt accents.

The pale and interesting Asian goth girl narrator (Mitch Truong) does a lot of the heavy lifting, reading out stage directions, while the rest of the cast pop up in their windows and talk directly to us – with odd moments as (duplicate) props are passed between actors who are in different locations (Dracula, it turns out, phoned in his performance from Barbados) and seated players bend over to slip fangs in and out of their mouths or pour blood over themselves, sometimes writhing a bit as scenes which involve physical contact are described as they pull faces.

It’s more like a radio play or a staged reading than a play or a film, but – hey – new dramatic forms are evolving to suit the times and if there are some technical slip-ups and typical Zoom glitches along the way, that’s to be expected.  Online, two performances (Friday and Saturday night) are archived – in the one I watched, Dracula’s entrance line is lost because the actor is mistakenly muted … and we get a few alien pop-up windows which are the digital equivalent of the janitor wandering on stage during a performance.

Most of the cast have digital backdrops of the asylum or Castle Dracula, but Seward is marooned in darkness with headphones on.  The actors try various approaches, with Laura Domingo and Justin P. Lopez managing some subtlety and variety as Mina and Jonathan, while Valerie Valenzuela goes for it full-throated as Lucy – who as often in adaptations benefits from having an arc – and there’s some scenery-chewing from Benny Garcia and Doy Charnsupharindr as Renfield and Van Helsing.

Both performances are online – Friday Night and Saturday Night.

Here’s the program.


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