Strange New England Reviews: Dracula

Fort Knox in Bucksport is an unusual part of Maine. Once a Civil War era fort, it is now a venue for psychic fairs and Halloween fright nights.

But on August 6th, long before Halloween, Fort Knox began another spooky transformation from a fort in New England to a moldering castle in Eastern Europe and austere estates in Victorian London with Ben Layman’s imaginative production of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

The show begins with the talented ladies of the Haus of Paradigm performing an appropriately dark dance with Dracula and Renfield taking part. Using a Gothic rock soundtrack, they helped set a dark and romantic mood to the setting before the play began. Three of the five dancers continued to play a part as the brides of Dracula, with more of the troupe’s members working as a part of the cast and ensemble.

The Haus of Paradigm also used their skills and training in pyrotechnics to add a little bit of flame to the torches and the burning cross, giving the right mood lighting and ferocity to the performance. It’s important to mention that every Paradigm member who helped with the pyrotechnics are highly trained in fire safety as well as dance performances. September, Cael and Calypso are the Haus of Paradigm pyrotechnics specialists who put these special effects together.

As the drama unfolded, actors used more than just the main stage. The top walk of the fort sitting above where the cannons sat were used as the sea cliff where Mina ran after Lucy when she was drawn out by the count in his wolf form. Dracula watched from a balcony above the stage as Dr. Seward and Van Helsing ended the vampire curse set on Lucy. Renfield ran in between the rows of the audience as he ranted and raved in his madness. In this way, Ben Layman used the historic fort to its fullest and brought the play to life vividly. I can still hear and feel the heavy footsteps of the chilling bat costume behind me when Dracula made his escape from his visit to Mina Murray.

The props and costumes were well designed, with the Haus of Paradigm’s colorful costumes and headdresses, the long, flowing black and grey robes of the old Dracula, the muted tones of Victorian clothes and the black and loose-fitting robes of the young Dracula. AoArts, also a costume designer and dancer in the Haus of Paradigm, lent her talents to the gothic costuming of the creatures of the night.

More nods must also go to the creature design, with wolf and bat costumes, complete with short stilts, strutted around the lawn and the top of the fort.¬†Haus of Paradigm member Madmik Obrecht put the right details in to make the wolf and bat costumes for Dracula’s fearsome animal forms. Madmik was also the designer behind the flaming cross which Dracula ignited in an exciting fight with Van Helsing.

Props were minimal, with emphasis put on the actors and ensemble cast. Actors and actresses dressed as gypsies in black served as torchbearers and barriers, as if the very walls were living servants to the count himself. Their comings and goings were announced by the jingles of their coin belts, which added even more to the atmosphere. Nature itself seemed to be in tune with the play. Sometimes the wind would blow just right to ruffle the costumes. The night fell as the play progressed towards it’s exciting conclusion. Soon, mosquitoes, natures’ own vampires, came out for blood as well.

Every single actor and actress performed their roles to perfection. Patrick Malloy injected paranoia and horror into his role as the haunted Jonathan Harker, with Melissa Burkhart paying her role as the determined and faithful Mina Murray. Her friend, Lucy Westerna, was played by Jordan Madeline Lablond, whose transformation from human to vampire was chilling and masterfully done.

Jesse McCormick displayed doubt and dismay as the unbelieving Dr. Seward. Padriac Harrison went wonderfully mad as Renfield. Julie Arnold Lisnet gave the right amount of wisdom and bravery to the role of Van Helsing. Last, but not least, the dread count himself was played by two actors: John Danico in black and white makeup and long regal robes as the old and still noble Dracula and Matthew McEntee as the younger and sensual Dracula. The short but intense fight scenes, which were choreographed by Nathan Roach, lent just the right amount of action and tension to the play.

It is important to mention that this play also includes some use of fire and some fake blood. Fake blood is kept at a minimum, however. If you’re in the front row, there is no need to worry if there is a ‘splatter zone’ or not.

Overall, the play was masterfully presented and turned Fort Knox into a world of Gothic horror for a few hours. Along with the talents of Haus of Paradigm, Ben’s production of Dracula was beautifully balanced. There was never too much of anything, but just the right amount of everything. there was not too much gore, too many fight scenes, too much sensuality¬†or too much dialogue. Everything was used in the right place and the right time by a director who, like a master chef, knows how to add in the right ingredients in the right amounts at the right time.

This production will continue to run from the 7th to the 9th and then will start a new run from the 13th to the 16th. All tickets are 10$ each at Fort Knox. All plays begin at 7:00 PM and will usually run until 9:30 PM.

This is a bargain level price for a show of this caliber. Picnic supper is encouraged, but no concessions are on sale. Anyone who wants to eat supper while watching this production can take advantage of the takeout restaurants in Bucksport.

This play is also for mature audiences. This is a play about vampires, so all the usual sensuality and blood will come with that.

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