PROVO — Mortal Fools’ Dracula is a perfect theatrical treat for Halloween—it’s fun, creepy, and just the slightest bit campy, and there’s never a dull moment.
The indoor kitchen of the Castle Theatre is a perfect venue for this show—it’s stony, slightly claustrophobic, and dimly lit. Walking up to the space, a silhouette stands in the window of one of the Castle towers, playing a violin. The music and the image immediately set the the mood, and before the show even started I had a smile on my face.
The script is a fast and furious adaptation by Orson Welles of the Bram Stoker novel (Welles adapted, produced, and acted in it for his Mercury Radio Theater production in the 1930’s). It’s quick (only about an hour), fun, and faithful to the source material. Director Christopher Clark recreates the radio theater environment with a cast of six amazingly talented actors—David Morgan, Christopher Kendrick, Jake Suazo, Barrett Ogden, Annadee Morgan, and Alexis Boss, each playing multiple roles. Daniel Anderson provides musical accompaniment on the violin, accordion, and piano, and Jason Jensen and Cherie Julander add some effective underscoring from an assortment of props on their sound effect table (coconut shells for horse hooves, glass shattering, a sheet of metal mimicking thunder, and so on).
Since their premiere production with last year’s Frankenstein, the Mortal Fools Theater Project has distinguished itself by bringing together some of the most talented people working in Utah Valley theater. I think this is their strongest show yet—every one of the performers is at the top of their game and the pacing never lags; everyone involved is clearly having a blast, and the enthusiasm is infectious. David Morgan takes the classic Lugosi-inspired Dracula we all know and love and he gives it just a bit of a twist—the accent is maybe a little more Eastern European than specifically Hungarian, and this Count is more boisterous than brooding. It’s a Dracula that manages to feel fresh without coming across as a willful reinvention. All of the other characterizations are just as lively, and some of the best moments in the production come when the cast works together to create the buzz of a crowd or the spine-chilling hiss that signals the vampire’s presence.
A series of sketches from three local artists are projected onto a screen behind the actors throughout the show. The sketches are wonderfully evocative—beautifully drawn, but more like storyboards than fully-fleshed-out drawings, so when the slide changes you’re never distracted worrying about whether or not you’ve just missed something. The drawings provides a natural and engaging third focal point, along with the actors and the sound effects, and what could have been overwhelming manages to be just right—the visuals keep us involved in the story without distracting.
As for the story itself—well, you’ve probably read or heard or seen it a few times already (there are at least two other Dracula stage productions in the area right now). Bram Stoker’s character and novel are quite properly a staple of modern mythology, and still the keystone around which all other vampire stories are built. I admired the ability of the director and cast to touch both subtly and strikingly on some of the most interesting aspects of the story—particularly the disturbing and ultimately redemptive sexual overtones. The show is something of a lark, and it is wonderfully, inoffensively accessible to a Utah County audience, but it also doesn’t feel bowdlerized. It’s primary objective seems to be to entertain, and it succeeds tremendously, yet it also leaves one room to think, and is even a bit moving in its own way. Christopher Clark and his cast are obviously having a lot of fun with the material, but it never totally crosses the line into tongue-in-cheek camp. The tone, like the rest of the show, is a perfect and a seemingly effortless balancing act that never falters.
This Dracula is a delectable Halloween treat that I’d recommend to anyone. It’s creepy and it’s exciting enough for the horror addict, and it’s tame and lighthearted enough not to upset the faint of heart. Shows like this don’t come along often enough—so don’t miss this one.