As someone who has driven through the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania during a massive thunderstorm I can attest to the fact that this particular part of Romania can be a scary place, although not quite in the way imagined by the Irish writer Bram Stoker, whose 1897 gothic horror novel, “Dracula,” left its giant, bloody fang marks on the landscape for all time.
‘THE HYPOCRITES DRACULA’
When: Through Nov. 5
Where: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport
Tickets: $30 – $55
Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Nor is the place fright-inducing in the farcical, proto-feminist, hysteria-driven, grand guignol-style manner in which it is conjured in director Sean Graney’s (very) freely adapted version of the story, which has arrived on the stage of Mercury Theater Chicago just in time for some pre-Halloween ghoulishness.
Let’s just say that Graney’s production begins in fine, more or less faithful style, with just the right mix of manners, menace and mayhem at the home of Dracula. But once it moves to London it lurches into full-blooded madhouse overkill, with liberated women on the far edge of insanity, lunatic doctors and researchers pitched over the precipice, wholesale decapitations and transfusions, cat abuse and more. By the end, Count Dracula seems no more insane or monstrous than anyone else.
It all begins as Jonathan Harker (the understated Maurice Demus), a reserved but ambitious and determined English solicitor, arrives at the Transylvanian estate of Dracula (a nicely monstrous Breon Arzell), where he is to oversee a real estate transaction in advance of the Count’s trip to England. Before he actually meets the vampire he encounters the bizarre and decidedly mad Alice Renfield (a delicious turn by Erin Barlow) who advises him to leave. But as Harker says, business must be done, and he wants to assure his professional future with this assignment before marrying his beloved Mina (Aurora Real de Asua).
Dracula’s entrance — one of the show’s most effective (and laugh-inducing moments) — comes as a door blows open and he suddenly emerges, fully fearsome, from a claw-foot bathtub that could easily double as a coffin. The two men engage in some droll and testy conversation, with Dracula expressing his desire to visit “modern London” and meet Mina’s best friend, Lucy (the zesty Janelle Villas), who is described as a free-thinking woman.
From there, things quickly begin to go downhill for Harker and everyone else as the vampire makes his way to England, and to the property that (wouldn’t you just know it?) is located next to an insane asylum. The asylum is run by Van Helsing (Robert McLean is a most believable nut case), with Seward (the comically squeamish John Taflan), the resident doctor who is notably afraid of blood, and also is unable to get Lucy to agree to marry him. Among the “patients” at the asylum is Alice, who explains that men tell her she is crazy. Perhaps, perhaps not.
The vampire feeding frenzy soon gets underway with a vengeance. And let’s just say that no one is exempt, that Lucy acquires her fangs, and that the mutilation of “the head, the hands and the heart” becomes the clarion cry of Van Helsing. There are moments amid all the upheaval that are deranged and sickly funny, but much less of everything would have been far more here. And long before it’s all over it is hard to care about anything except the show’s cleanup crew, which clearly has its work cut out for it after each show.
John Musial’s set is a compact marvel, enhanced by Mike Durst’s lighting and Joe Griffin’s excellent sound design. Samantha C. Jones’ costumes put a contemporary fashion edge on things. No doubt they are washable.