Time to Remember
Disclaimer: If you haven't noticed, I'm a little passionate about the arts. With this passion comes lots of subjective opinions. I mean no harm, please do not think of this as an attack. It is merely my thoughts on my love. Some of it may seem harsh, but it is not my intent to make anyone feel bad. Being in the theatre, you put yourself up for consideration, criticism, adulation, and derision. It is what you do with these things that can only make you a stronger artist. This is a business of much rejection. You have to be pretty thick-skinned to survive if you want to pursue this as a career. And always remember- when you put yourself in the line of fire, sometimes you're going to get shot. Ultimately, this is just an opinion. There will be many varying ones in the future, I assure you.
"The Transylvanian Clockworks" , the latest production at Kaleidoscope Theatre, is a meditation on the Dracula story, peppered with allusions to the Jack the Ripper legend. It is a bold and bizarre work, alternately surreal and grounded but ultimately I found it a confusing mess. I am not quite sure what the intent of the author Don Nigro was, but I am sure that I didn't quite get it. After viewing the play, I googled the playwright and found that he is a prolific (over 300 plays under his belt) and lauded author, having been nominated for National Repertory Theatre Foundation's National Play award and has won several grants for playwriting as well. So obviously, this guy is talented. But the mixture of verse, standard prose, song, and wild liberties taken with the root material left me bewildered.
Charles Wilsons dramatic set is a series of platforms of varying heights interconnected by staircases ( It reminded me of Escher's' "Endless Stairs" - showing movement but not really going anywhere)all painted black, the only color coming from the furniture and props and the white doorway on the upper center platform. As the play begins, the actors enter at different levels, crossing and climbing to the faint strains of moody music, until settling into their specific scene. When they stopped, I almost expected them to burst into song- the crossing being so choreographed. I learned from a review from another production that this is a stage direction written in the script The small cast spends the majority of the play onstage, continuing their actions in muted lights while the highlighted brightly lit part of the stage holds the main story. (This is an interesting conceit, but unfortunately as the play progressed, I found the background scenes to be distracting and upstaging the true thrust of the story.)
The cast is uniformly strong, good actors all, but there were some acting choices that I did not agree with. You may have noticed the title of this blog...Well. The play is set in London and Transylvania, but with the exception of Matt Albritton (who has a marvelous voice and uses a vague European dialect that is well suited for Van Helsing) no one attempts an accent. Usually, this doesn't phase me, because I know if the cast is unable to do a convincing dialect, it can totally take you out of the play. However this play has random passages in verse, and the lovely standardized American accent that generally is preferable on the stage actually made those lines fall flat and dull.
Tyler Kent plays Jonathan Harker who in this version seems to be an amalgamation of Harker and Renfield,(In the original Renfield is Dracula's familiar, and mad as a hatter.) Harker starts the show in an asylum attended to by Dr. Seward (Barry Hertzog). Kent's Harker is a mass of tics and floppy hair, snatching flys out of the air, and relaying his meeting of the famous Count. There is a nice contrast between his pre and post insane moments but it could have benefitted from a less foppish and loose limbed portrayal . Hertzog is a dependable staple at the theatre. He does a solid job as the philandering Dr. (His drunk scenes, as usual, are sublime and he surprises in the second act impromptu burst of song!) though his physical presence led me to mistakenly believe he might be the villain of the piece. Lindsay Renee Unruh (Mina), Jessica Shirvan (Lucy) and Juliet Whiddon (Peg) have a nice rapport as the cousins of Harker and their housemaid. Unruh does a lovely job as the high strung and distraught wife of Harker and Shirvan is perfectly vivacious .I did get the feeling that all of the characters in the play were a bit mad ( I thought it would be an interesting reveal to have them all be patients in the asylum )
Last but certainly not least is Jason Betz as the titular Count. Now, I fault the script for this predominantly because it decided to re-invent the wheel, but this Dracula seemed neutered and ...I hate to say it, but kind of whiny. More Bella from "Twilight" than Bela Lugosi. Saddled with an unfortunate wig (style no less inspired by Gary Oldmans 'do in the 1992 remake) and an ill fitting vest that made him look more like a lame cosplay geek than the prince of darkness. I am sure Betz is a fine actor, but unfortunately this material did not give him much to work with.
Which leads me back to the play itself.The tone veered madly from uber serious to oddly(and purposefully )funny. The random verse, the odd shoutouts to the original material (Early on, Van Helsing is feeding pidgeons in the park and says "Listen to them. Children of the EVENING. What music they make." Evening???? Hmm.) I am a fan of re-booting in general. I think its interesting to re-examine a classic and mine new depths of psycho-sexual subtext and the linking of the Ripper lore was intriguing, but in the end, I just had to say "Why?" The Ripper theory went no where, the vampire never bit anyone!!! And Dracula made...CLOCKS??? I am sure I missed something in the dialogue because I have no idea why this meant anything . And at a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, I really wanted a bigger payoff. Ultimately, despite the game cast, "The Transylvanian Clockworks " struck out.
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