The Rep's 'Dracula' hits a vein

Leo Sochocki,
Nashville's City Paper

November 06, 2003

"There's a lot more to the simplest of theatrical productions than meets the eye. The goings on are usually more intricate than what's out front. As often as not the technical aspects tell as much of the story as does the dialogue and acting. Tennessee Repertory Theatre's current production of Dracula exemplifies how the backstage elements make the difference between a ho-hum rehashing of well-known tale and a spectacular presentation of a gothic drama.

Director David Grapes' vision was to present a staged version of the dark romance that not only captured the lavish trappings and accoutrements that accompanied the films of the 40s, but to project the dark mood and tone of film noir. The production currently running in TPAC's Polk Theatre succeeds mightily on all fronts.

Gary Hoff has outdone himself and his contemporaries in this most munificent of stage settings. Grapes and playwright Robert Neblett have set the piece in a 1948 sanitarium for the rich and famous that is being used as a location shoot for a Hollywood film. The updating works wonderfully. Much of the success is due to Hoff's opulent set. Shades of gray, black and silver bedeck and bedazzle not only the bloodsucking Count's victims but the audience as well. Add copious amounts of chemical smoke, melodramatic dialogue and a few moments of intentionally campy humor and you have a theater work that makes the actor's job not only simpler but almost superfluous.

Thankfully the cast takes the stage elements another step. Henry Haggard steals the show as Detective Abe Van Helsing. Haggard is a pro in the truest sense of the word. His characters take as much stage as they need and no more. In this instance the character needs the whole darned thing. Reminiscent of Bogey as Sam Spade, Haggard's asides are dramatic and compelling one moment and utterly hysterical the next.

Not that the play's title role is overlooked. Steve Hauck plays a strong Count. The audience falls under his spell as readily as Mindy Woodhead's Lucy Murray. Hauck exhibits the finest competence and character ability, portraying both the darker more violent side and the tragic loneliness of the immortal Count.

If sheer intensity is your final goal in appreciating a performance, the night belongs to Jeremy Childs. Childs, strong in all of his recent endeavors, has surpassed his previous work with his tortured portrayal of Dracula's most loyal minion Renfield. All too often the character is relegated to the background in both performance and dramatic intent. Whether by design or simple strength in personification, Childs gives the audience a Renfield that is both putrid and pitiable. I'm sure that I've never seen the role portrayed with such emotional integrity and pathos. I do not want to hang around with this guy after the show.

As the requisite femme fatale, Mindy Woodhead is a welcome newcomer to the Rep's cache of strong leading ladies. Her Lucy whines, cajoles, conjures and succumbs with best of them. Not to be outdone simply by virtue of less dialogue, Denise Hicks plays triple duty with numerous characterizations. Her Jessica Sheridan puts one in mind of Tracey Ullman with both comic ability as well as specific dexterity in the nuance of the characterization.

If you enjoy either the vampire legend or the film noir style, you will love this production for both its fine performances as well as its stunning set and technical features."

Dracula – “The Case of the Silver Scream"
The Rep Does it Again

Diane Harsha
Rep Reviewer

Well they have done it again - another great production by the Tennessee Repertory Theater. This time, we are given "Dracula - The Case of the Silver Scream". The setting is Los Angeles, the time is 1945 - far removed from 1890 Transylvania, but it "works" as we say in show business.

What better way to celebrate the season than to head downtown to the recently and beautifully renovated TPAC for an evening of "chilling" entertaining? The sounds and sights in this David Grapes/Robert Neblett adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel will "haunt" you for days to come; that famous deep vampire laugh rings in my ears yet. The setting and props are masterful; I felt like I was watching a vivid Techniclor film. There is enough blood and gore and guts to satiate even the most diehard horror fan, but the audience appreciated the comic relief supplied by Detective Van Helsing portrayed wonderfully by Henry Haggard.

In fact, I hesitate to even single out one actor because everyone is this small cast does a superb job, but I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Haggard who simply nailed his part.

The Rep continues to set high standards for itself and appears to be incapable of providing anything but good solid entertainment in a venue that is simply unsurpassed. I encourage you to take your family, your significant other, your friend, to "Dracula" and let yourself be entertained by those who do it best...."

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