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Theatre Review by David Hurst - February 17, 2020

Matthew Saldivar, Kelley Curran, and Kate Hamill
Photo by Joan Marcus
Having already cleverly co-opted most of Jane Austen's canon into vehicles for herself, as well as the best of Louisa May Alcott and William Makepeace Thackeray, playwright and actress Kate Hamill has now set her sights on Bram Stoker's 1897 epistolary novel Dracula, currently in production at Classic Stage Company (performed in repertory with Frankenstein) with perplexing and often disastrous results. Thanks to an incoherent tone courtesy of director Sarna Lapine and wildly over-the-top performances by a game cast, Hamill's Dracula doesn't know what it wants to be and audience members are left to scratch their heads in stupefying befuddlement.

The best way to describe what Hamill and Lapine are going for is to quote the show's press release, which says "both terrifying and riotous, Kate Hamill's Dracula confronts the sexism in Bram Stoker's original work and subjugates it as a smart and disquieting feminist revenge fantasy. Kate's signature style and postmodern wit upends this familiar tale of Victorian vampires and drives a stake through the heart of toxic masculinity."

Unfortunately, the production is never terrifying or riotous—at least not in the way its creators intended. Hamill's stab at feminist subjugation takes the form of casting women as both Renfield, the crazed psychiatric patient controlled by Count Dracula, and Doctor Van Helsing, a vampire hunter whom Jessica Frances Dukes plays as a tough, Pam Grier-style badass vigilante. Guess who plays the wild-eyed lunatic Renfield? Hamill, of course, in an unleashed performance that frequently breaches the fourth wall. Additional feminist empowerment is provided courtesy of the lovely Kelly Curran who plays Mina Harker and whose growing confidence becomes the lynchpin in the struggle to destroy Count Dracula.

Despite a talented and brave cast, Lapine can't resolve the issues of style and tone for Hamill's Dracula. Is the production a spoof? Is it satire? Is it supposed to be taken seriously, or is it to be laughed at? If Lapine wants it to be all those things, she's unsuccessful. There's never anything remotely frightening or scary happening onstage, unless it's the exaggerated British accents and the melodramatic delivery of Hamill's dialogue. As Van Helsing, Dukes gives up any pretense of sounding British, and, bizarrely, is costumed to look like a tourist in any present-day European city.

The men in Dracula are all wasted despite their best efforts to be relevant. As Count Dracula, poor Matthew Amendt (who has many classical roles to his credit) isn't even given a blackout in which to slink off stage after being clumsily (and unconvincingly) killed. As Jonathan Harker, Michael Crane makes a solid impression, but it's the delicious Matthew Saldivar who throws all caution to the wind as Doctor Seward, delivering his overwrought dialogue with a deadly seriousness that garners plenty of laughs from the audience. Who knew Doctor Seward was such a comedian?

Ultimately, however, imposing a "feminist revenge fantasy" on a property as tried and tired as Dracula cannot justify its inclusion in Classic Stage Company's season. This is a slip-shod, bargain-basement production devoid of any serious stagecraft that squanders its cast's talent and its audience's time.

Through March 8, 2020
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street
Tickets online and current performance schedule: