REVIEW: Dark theme, ominous tone is highlight of ‘Dracula’

Bu Luis Castilla

The dark looming influence of Castle Dracula has been summoned during East Los Angeles College Theater Arts Department’s excellent adaptation of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” 

The PS black box has been transformed into a haunted house complete with cobwebs and an eerie mirror to welcome visitors.

Director of the play, Kelley Hogan, said that half of the cast were new actors who had never been in an ELAC play.

Some of the new actors include Lorily Herrera who plays the lead female character Mina Westerman, Hakop Mkhsian who plays Orderly Drinkwater and Gigi Yue Yat Gi who plays an orderly and a boy child.

Herrera’s strengths are brought out when she is in conversation with Lucy, Mina’s sister played by Constance Villalvazo. The two are the driving force and the motivation for the story to progress.

The scenes between Dracula, played by Robert Anaya, and Jonathan Harker, played by  Jimmy Solis, are the most gripping. 

Anaya and Soils have both been in five plays and have amazing chemistry. Dracula is constantly trying to seduce Harker, creating some of the most tense and sexy scenes of the whole production.

Anaya said he had enjoyed working with many new actors. “You get to see where you started,” Anaya said. “It makes you a bit happy to see how you’ve grown as an actor and as a person.”

Anaya went through intense preparation for the role of Dracula. He said he lost a lot of weight through a water diet and prohibited himself from eating food and having sex. 

“Only drinking water and not indulging in food or sex helped me understand his thirst for blood, his need for it,” Anaya said. “He’s an enigma in these people’s lives.”

Anaya’s preparation is clear in his portrayal of Dracula as a suppressed and frustrated man.

Van Helsing, played by Joseph Darby, is one of the most well-designed characters. The combination of Darby’s makeup, wardrobe, Dutch accent and slight limp create an old man that makes the audience forget there is an actor under it all.

There are several scenes that foreshadow future events in the play. Renfield, played by Farshid Keshmirian, is thought to be delusional, but only because he is surrounded by people who are ignorant to the arrival of Dracula.

The play features convincing disappearing effects and makes use of projections to simulate animals, insects and blood.

The props used in the play are very well-made and all appear authentic to the year 1895, when the play is set. Props master Edgar Bustillo said it took him about seven weeks to complete Van Helsing’s kit, which includes a dagger, wooden stakes, garlic and more. 

Bustillo also crafted a transfusion machine that actually pumps blood as well as a retractable syringe.

The multi-functional set, designed by Eleanor Mentecino, transports the audience to the gothic victorian era. 

The set features projected portraits of Vlad the Impaler, the direct inspiration for Dracula, and Queen Elizabeth I, who some believed to be a vampire, among others.

The lighting brings out the features of the set. The barely noticeable gate on the left side of the set becomes the terrifying gate to Castle Dracula under ominous lighting.

This version of the play was adapted by poet Liz Lockhead. Hogan said this more modern version of the script does not portray female characters as just damsels in distress.

Hogan said she placed easter eggs in the play for fans of the original novel.

“I want to get people in the Halloween mood,” Hogan said.

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” will run in the P2 black box theater until Oct. 27 with evening showtimes  at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday and matinees at 2 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available for $12 at the door and $10 general, with $8 discounted tickets for ASU members.

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