Dracula lives!  UNO director D. Scott Glasser has brought forth a production of Steven Dietz’ s stage version of Bram Stoker’s novel, full of vitality and urgent drama. The constantly vivid action can grab you and hold you fascinated, given the excellent cast’s energy and conviction. Andy Prescott especially stands out as sturdy Van Helsing.

Glasser’s approach throbs with colorful and compelling movement, underscoring an emphasis on keeping the  momentum going. This impressive approach become a memorable experience and a superb choice, especially because so many of us believe we already know the original legend and may discover new things. Warning: As the tension mounts before the final scene, be amazed how what happens next almost explodes.

Dietz has primarily re-created Stoker’s story rather than spinning off on his own distinct way.  He uses some of Stoker’s original words and ideas but develops everything in overlapping, sometimes non-sequential scenes unlike Stoker’s adherence to chronological progression.  That works well. And the script contains fine, articulate dialogue, no matter who wrote it.

Certainly, due to how the legend is familiar, it becomes fascinating to hear dialogue which, now, foreshadows what is to come. The characters don’t know what’s ahead, but we do and that stirs a fresh, amused perspective such as when the Count tells Harker, during that visitor’s  dinner, that he has already dined.

A memorable aspect: the Count at home in his castle prior to departing for England, seems to be a decaying old man, something rarely remembered. The dialogue clarifies that Dracula needs to revitalize himself abroad. Thus, he later appears vigorously youthful.

Glasser makes sure that there is sensuality before our fascinated eyes, for example having Lucy and Mina fondly touch and embrace each other and, later, making certain that Lucie becomes a lusty transformation of her previously innocent self. He also well vivifies Harker’s near-rape by the Carpathian Vixens. Plus the director never fails to expose us to Dracula’s frequent open-mouthed connections with naked throats.

As for getting perceptive interpretations from his talented cast, Glasser has the seemingly genteel Dr. Seward shy and proper when first daring to court Lucy, contrasted by Seward’s harsh and unsympathetic dealings with Renfield, who is, after all, a patient in his care. That looks consistent with the Victorian period in which this is set. As regards Van Helsing, in having young Prescott take the role, together they have found ways to establish believable maturity, even though Stoker’s version is much older, being Seward’s former teacher. Prescott’s perfect body language gives Van Helsing constant assurance and command.

At a preview Michael Judah’s interpretation of Dracula as an old man came across as thoroughly convincing. As the younger and more obviously sinister one, he played the movements and accent with polish and skill but he exhibted the more standard way of playing it, floridly, rather than making him look like someone real. Almost a dancer. Such a deliberately big approach meant lots of high volume, declaiming, which sometimes seemed to have influenced other performers to lose more natural ways of speaking. Fear has more than one dimension.

Sarah Nickolaison’s performance as Lucy and Mike Burns as Harker both successfully suggest internal strength rather than being sadly vulnerable victims. Credit Glasser for making that so.

Robbie Jones’ elemental set seems an ideal choice, with its effective multiple levels, as if equaling how Dietz has multi-level events unfolding. Along with lighting designer Audrey Wardian’s tightly focused rays, together they keep shadows looming, underscoring the darkness of what transpires.  Note too how Wardian and property manager Savannah Savick get meaningful glows in the wings and in a powerful crucifix.

Glasser has done another laudable thing. He’s inserted into the program background notes about Stoker, about the many transformations of the novel and about Dietz’s approach.  Dietz, by the way, has written more than 32 plays and they’ve been performed all over the U.S. as well as in non-English speaking countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Australia, Sweden, Russia, Argentina, Greece and South Africa. Among there are Pulitzer-nominated Last of the Boys and the Edgar Award-winning Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure  You also can witness Dietz’ s widely-produced thriller, Yankee Tavern presented by Circle Theatre starting October 16th (www.circletheatreomaha.org) Re Dietz: (www.samuelfrench.com/author/1686/steven-dietz)

Certainly you will come to this production knowing the essence of the subject. But I think you’ll come away feeling you’ve experienced it fresh and thoroughly dramatic. 

Dracula runs though Oct. 10 at UNO Theatre, Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge Street. Weds.-Sat. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $6-$16. UNO students: free.  http://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-communication-fine-arts-and-media/theatre-productions

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