Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker
By Jim Helsinger
Directed by Michael Carlton
Starring John P. Keller
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL
Ah, there’s nothing like a good public domain story for adaptation! There is no way you cannot have heard this tale, I see 280 titles on IMDB alone with “Dracula” as a keyword. But liberties were taken in many of those productions, and it might be time to revisit the original just to see how we have sinned. This adaptation is about as close to original as you might find, it even keeps the diary conceit as an outline for the action, and there is plenty of action considering this is a one man show. One man shows are always risky on several levels, the actor has no one to help if he drops a line, the writer has to keep the separate characters separate, and pulling action out of that single pair of eyes on stage can be a challenge. Fortunately director Carlton and actor Keller succeed the set itself is outrageous enough to keep you entertained with its revolving door and ceiling full of spider web dressed chairs.
Mr. Harker is young and ambitious; he leaves Essex for the backside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in search of a major real-estate commission. There he is abducted by his client The Count, and escapes just in time to save England from a vampire infestation. Immortality is fine for gypsies, but proper Englishmen know not to hang around when they are no longer wanted. All the elements of the classic vampire tales are here: aversion to sunlight, a taste for blood and a disgust of Christianity. Christianity requires you to bow down for eternal life, Vampirism asks you to stand tall. And Keller does as he jumps, climbs and slithers through the set resurrected from the last version of this show. Guns are fired, candles snuffed, and flash paper burned, the audience gets a few good scares from the stage and the rafters. Keller’s main role is that of the Earnest Young Englishman but plays a dozen others. His best self-supporting role was the improbably named Quincy Morris, Texan and cowboy. The character was great, but what self-respecting cowboy would be called “Quincy”? That’s almost as bad as being named “Marion.”
As a Halloween horror nights scare fest, this will leave you cold. But as a three dimensional shadow box of creep, this production is thoroughly enjoyable. Adaptation can be tricky things, and here Helsinger has done an excellent job. A few things are fiddled from the previous two performances; the first I saw was at the now extinct Winter Park Arts Mall and that show would have been about where the Publix wine department is now located. There are no cheap scares here, this is a psychological thriller that often allows you to step outside of the action and analyze it. But there are moments where you find yourself crawling over and abyss and it doesn’t matter if it is 1000 or 4000 feet deep, the view will leave you breathless.
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