(ABOVE: Hartshorn Portraiture photo, via Mile Square Theatre)
by Margaretha Heidel
Just the name “Dracula” evokes so much. With Halloween around the corner, it lands on the greatest story list up there with the The Headless Horseman and Frankenstein. The mystique of the story almost precedes it. How many of you have ever uttered “I’m going to suck your blood.” without really knowing the whole story? If you can relate to this at all or if, quite the opposite, you studied the book and wrote a paper on it, you will enjoy the MST’s production of Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker which is playing until October 30 at their beautiful new space at 14th and Clinton.
I went to see this with my husband, who is by all accounts a true aficionado of all things horror. We both looked forward to it—the expert and the novice—knowing only that it was a one-man show, covering the whole story, and that John P. Keller—whom we loved in MST’s It’s a Wonderful Life—was the lead.
In my other life, I am a real estate broker. This week was kind of a tough one for me, with one deal in particular just not coming together for no good reason. I chuckled to myself in the first act because, if you are looking to feel sorry for someone who can’t get a transaction done, it wouldn’t be me—look no further than poor Jonathan Harker!
A new solicitor from Essex is charged by his employer to venture far into the Carpathian Mountains and arrange for the purchase of London property by Count Dracula himself. Poor young man, so naïve! He’s made the arduous journey to the famous Castle and just can’t get that Count to sign the deal. Of course, he realizes that something bigger is going on as he dines alone nightly and begins to feel a bit mad—he is actually being imprisoned by his purchaser! (Okay realtors out there, that was for you!) But, I digress!
Keller does an excellent job switching from Dracula to Harker and back again without blinking an eye. His physical work has to be mentioned as it helped us as an audience grasp immediately who he was, sometimes, before uttering a word. Animal-like, and husky-voiced, Keller’s Dracula was perfectly scary, foreboding, and downright creepy. I wished at times the lighting would have helped more as it seemed in the first act to be too bright when he was Harker and not creepy enough when he was Dracula. The set designer (Matthew J. Fick) deserves kudos for a puzzle-like imaginative set which fleshed out Harker’s world like the other ‘character’ of the piece.
In the second act, Keller shines even brighter as he shares with us the other characters involved with hunting down the vampire, now on the loose in London. His Renfield was well played, the Doctor spot on, and Quincey the Texan too, which he brought out brilliantly with the use of a single hat. Some of the act was pure storytelling as we sat in the dark listening to what happened next, hardly knowing where Harker would pop up or what he might be holding.
The show was wonderfully directed by Melissa Firlit, who had a tough task of working with one actor and a great big story, keeping the pace and the movement of Keller right in time with the action.
Dracula plays at the Mile Square Theatre until the end of the month. Check www.milesquaretheatre.org for times and inexpensive ticket purchase. Become bitten this Halloween season, but don’t say you weren’t warned!