DRACULA at Northwestern review-A feminist revenge fantasy

Mario Montes and Carter Popkin as Jonathan Harker and Count Dracula
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Northwestern University is currently staging DRACULA: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really, by Kate Hamill, directed by Jasmine B. Gunter, at the Ethel Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston Campus, through March 3, 2024. It’s a spirited, often funny, and visually vivid redo of Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire story, billed as “A Feminist Revenge Play”. The stagecraft is truly eye-catching, with sexy blood-red and white costumes, drifting smoke, nifty chain curtains and a vast ironwork ceiling fixture, the scenes backlit with eerie nuance.

Much of the acting is really first rate, especially intriguing are the characters that are ancillary to Stoker’s original Victorian fantasy- in particular, the en-gendering of mental patient Renfield into the central narrator is brilliant; Natalie Tangerman opens the play and leads it with a compelling performance, chewing insects and calling for “daddy”.  Nastia Goddard and Quinn McManus as Marilla and Drusilla, the Vampire acolytes- (they play other roles, too)- are juicy, awful, long-suffering and tender by turns.

Thankfully, the politics of the play, while obvious and up-front, are not laid on with a trowel, but rather, are light-hearted and almost self-mocking, which renders the whole agreeable instead of an over-woke burdensome piece. After all, the vampire story itself has been done and done again and again, yet never better than it was done by Stoker, whose masterpiece was itself a psychological commentary on the effects of Victorian repression on female sexuality. Playwright Kate Hamill, who has made a career adapting classic novels into “new female classics”, here expresses fulsome fed-up anger at the patriarchal nature of the underlying society, focusing on all the men in the story as embodying monstrous characteristics, while ironically still enshrining The Monster himself. Her Dracula, cunningly portrayed by Carter Popkin, is a tall, pale, beautifully dressed, not particularly sinister multi-lingual, variously accented sensualist who is unafraid of sunlight, can defeat the imagery of the cross and blasphemes with abandon. As Hamill notes, “All men could turn dangerous if given too much power”. All women, too, right, Kate?

Carter Popkin and Kylie Kim as Dracula and Lucy Westenra

In this incarnation of the legend of Vlad Dracul, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century Romanian prince who ran through his enemies, the  female accomplices eat babies and mourn the lack of substance, get into a threesome with one of the wimpy males (they are all wimpy), suck the blood of the vampire himself, and mock/taunt the lead team alienist/physician while figuratively twirling a lasso. In the original, an eminent psychiatrist has been brought forth to figure out who has pierced the necks of virgin women and innocent children- (it’s not exactly a misogynistic anti-feminine attack). One important aspect of the primary book is still made manifest in this new conception: the story is told from the perspectives of more than one of the characters and retains its depth and versatility. Also, the true embodiment of evil does perish in the end…it’s significant to point out, though, that Stoker’s monster issues a sigh of relief before leaving this vale of tears.

Natalie Tangerman as Renfield

While too long by half at 3 hours including intermission, the piece is entertaining and enjoyable. Opening night played to a mostly full house, even in an unexpected blizzard. Kudos to Hannah Clark, scenic/props designer, for the special spectacle; to Avi Sheehan, lighting designer, for flashes of intensity and casting the pall; to Emily Hayman, sound designer, for catcalls and strange noises in the night; to Lia Wallfish, costume designer, for outfits that slayed. DRACULA delivers up sexual violence, suicide and social revolution- it’s a bloody bit of fun that will give you something to think and talk about- go see it!

All photos provided by Northwestern University/Wirtz Centers for the Performing Arts

For information and tickets, go to wi***@no**********.edu


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