Episode 4 - Dracula

Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and this is Obstructed View. 

Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing Dracula by Three Day Hangover. Dracula was presented at the McAlpine hall at West Park Church.

Wesley: This performance was done immersively with a bar that was integrated into the performance.

Robyne: If you don’t know the story of Dracula, we’ve linked a synopsis in the show notes. This piece by Steven Dietz and Lori Wolter Hudson is a liberal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Let’s jump right into design.

Wesley: So we have scenic and lighting design by Christopher and Justin Swader, sound design by Toby Jaguar Algya, and costume design by Caitlin Cisek

Robyne: I really liked the costumes. I loved how they found ways in all of the design elements under what I assume to be a very low budget, to really honor the story and the period from which this story comes. I found the proffesor’s costume to be very well contemporized. I found both Mina and Lucy’s costumes to be fitting of their characters. And all of the men seem to be fairly well dressed. I only didn’t necessarily care for Renfield’s costume, but it worked within the story and the design. 

Wesley: I thought the costuming worked well for what they were achieeing here. My only point of issue was Dracula, I thought his was a bit more on the grotesque side, a bit too flamboyant, a bit too 1970s. And when you’re contemporizing almost all these characters, he came off a bit dated and that was something that I couldn’t just grasp why.

Robyne: I found that in the greater style of the piece that it fit, that he was a little dated. It didn’t bother me too much but I totally understand what you’re saying. I did think that the teeth work was wonderful, those prosthetic teeth up close looked great. 

Wesley: Yeah, teeth were great. I enjoyed the make up work.

Robyne: I also like what they did set wise with dressing the room as they did. I understand that they couldn’t build a full set but there were a lot of things I liked about it. As you said when we first walked in to the room, I really liked how there was only one portrait on the wall. I really liked how bare most of it was, it really helped with the foot traffic in the immersion.

Wesley: I, on initial impact, I appreciated the space greatly. It was large, it was cavernous, I liked the scarcity of what they used. There was a bit of difficulty of deciding where we can and cannot sit, I noticed a few people stumbling around trying to find a place to find a seat. But there was nothing really that distracting. I appreciate how they had to work with the sparcity of the space, transporting us from one world to another during the performance, though I wish there was a bit more integration into the actual foundation of the space itself. I never felt as though I was brought into a world with the hall around me, I felt as though I was always dealing with specific set properties being brought out in front of me. That with how statically they had the audience stand for great swaths of the performance where seats could easily do.

Robyne: The immersiveness lost it’s fun when the scenes started to run over five minutes; I found myself standing for large periods of time. And the worst part of this production for me was the other audience members. Given that this was an immersive, Bar Theater piece, I was fully prepared for a lot of the interactions I was going to have, but there seemed to be a lot of clueless audience members who kept backing into one another, there were a lot of spilled drinks, there were a lot of elbows, and a good deal of that was unnecessary.  While there was a lot of guidance given by either the cast out of character or by other members of the production team herding us along in this small room, there still was a lack of clarity in what was habitable space and, I agree, we were standing for far too long without moving. We should have been able to sit at certain points.

Wesley: I’ve been in immersive situations where you finally form a bond of community with the audience around you experiencing the piece. For example, when I saw Speakeasy Dollhouse at the Player’s Club or, probably one of my favorite of these, A Serious Banquet, by This is Not a Theater Company, I felt as though I made friends that evening, experiencing this theatrical production, being immersed in this world with them. Here everyone else seemed a little bit intrusive. And given how big the hall was, I really felt lost with them.

Robyne: In this style you have a spectrum and on the one end you have something like A Serious Banquet which is a party that everyone is invited to, and on the other end you have Sleep No More, which is completely isolationist.

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This fell somewhere in between without any real intention of how this piece is suppose to interact with the audience and how the audience is suppose to interact with each other. It felt as if no attention was paid as to what we were suppose to feel.

Wesley: Granted, I don’t feel as thought the immersivity was suppose to be a gimmick, but it didn’t feel integral.

Robyne: There were fun moments with the sound design and a lot of the practical, from-the-audience sounds. There was this howling bit they kept having us do that had a great deal of diminishing returns at the end. There was an expectation I felt that the audience was supposed to be much drunker than we were.

Wesley: The interaction with us felt like a necessary evil on their part as if they had to follow through with the immersivitiy and so the scenic design of this world never really managed to put it into a framework in which the immersivity was a necessity to the story telling. 

Robyne: I did not feel that the immersiveness was used to transport us into this world and to make this interactive, to feel like we were involved in the world. I didn’t really know why we were being immersed in this. This may have just as easily been done in a proscenium and it may have worked far better.

Wesley: Lighting design by Christopher and Just Swader as well, I had no real issue with.

Robyne: The, again, clearly were limited on what they could do both financially and in the space. It worked fairly well. There’s a moment of audience interaction, that we’ll discuss later, using the lighting that was probably the highlight of the show. Overall, lighting was fine.

Wesley: Yeah. They had a couple nice effects: the red that backlight Dracula when he entered, it had a nice 1980s Pop-film kind of vibe to it.  We recognize this was a very limited budget production, and for what they were probably able to work with on that level this was excellently achieved.

Robyne: Dracula is presented in this downtown, nerd, bar theater style that holds a certain amount of irreverence for the material, usually a great deal of irreverence for the material, and is filled with anachronisms. I have seen a great deal of this sort of theater and it is usually blunt and less funny than it thinks it is, and unfortunately I found that prevalent throughout Dracula.

Wesley: There was a lot of joy in the performers getting a chance to perform but I felt no love for the characters, no love for the material –

Robyne: There is a great deal of finesse required to pull off a show of this nature very well. A lot of the references felt very heavy handed, a lot of the modernization of the script felt blunt. There’s a number of times where they pull out their phones and the dialogue doesn’t sound like humans of today’s world discussing the use of technology. There was just some very rough moments of, I could almost feel the collaborators asking, “Well, how does this sound? This works.” With no smoothing out of the language.

Wesley: The pop-culture references, they were so unnecessary. The anachronisms never gelled well. They felt like a style that was meant to feel novel but I have seen it so many times before that it just felt stale, and rather than making this show feel more timely,  it just felt more dated.

Robyne: There were a number of them that worked but they were just unfortunately buried beneath seven more that didn’t.

Wesley: There were also many times that they would reference the bar, and drinking, and being drunk, which, it was funny before you’re legally able to drink. Like they’re the sort of thing that people would say in a college movie. Here, it as so self congratulatory and invaise. 

Robyne: It is a necessary part of the production, it is an intential design element and that can be a great deal of fun, but there is a fun, in-character way to discuss this and there is a forceful reminder that the ticket cost is low and you should be drinking and it’s part of the production. Which is totally fine but there is a way to convey that without swearing at your audience, which can be fun but in this instance absolutelywas not.

Wesley: There was one instance I enjoyed and the was January Lavoy playing Yeungling. Her coming out as this sort of meta, product-placement character –

Robyne: That anachronism, that contemporization, that kind of meta-theatrical element is what this entire style is built upon.  And January was not only wonderful in that role, and I would almost say tongue-in-cheek, very self-aware, character,

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but the renaming of Van Helsing, and having her constantly bringing that element of the drinking into it, having the audience partake in the drinking as part of the story telling, was wonderful. Having her offer beers as weapons was a great addition, was more of what I was hoping to see in this production. But the bruskness of having your characters remind the audience that the bar is open during intermission, the constant, “Time to take a shot!” felt like a younger, recent post graduate, theater company.

Wesley: It felt like an app they were able to get for a cheap price but in order to be able to do anything with it you need to buy all the upgrades in it. It felt like we were being held hostage to this bar.  Rather than it being a joyful part of this world we’re in, it felt like a necessary evil to appreciate this thing that I was entirely unable to appreciate on any level of sobriety.  That’s not to say that the performers were drowned by the piece.

Robyne: January Lavoy’s Professor was wonderful, was just the embodiment of how great this style can work. I also really enjoyed Nemuna Ceesay’s Mina, it felt like a wonderful modernization of this character, holding kick-ass American feminist ideals while also still honoring the source material. I thought Miranda Noelle Wilson Lucy and Jonathan Finnegan’s Seward were both great and I loved their relationship. A lot of the modernization and meta aspects of their relationship, the constant back and forth about what level their relationship was, whether they were lovers or friends, I thought worked very well most of the time. Justin Yorio’s Harker felt slightly out of place, he was much more serious than the rest of the cast, as Harker is but it just, it just didn’t sit quite right in the irreverent, meta-style. Paul Kite’s Renfield, while I don’t like the character he portrayed, that rapid lunatic, in the stereotypical pop-culture sense, I felt he portrayed that role very well.

Wesley: The rule of diminishing returns with almost every aspects of this production for me grated especially Paul Kite as Renfield. I could always appreciate his commitment and his capabilities but by the end, what was once charming became intolerable. Jokes were hammered and hammered and hammered and almost none of them became funny again.

Robyne: Again I felt the audience was expected to be much drunker and louder than we were. It wasn’t clear whether the production was suppose to take place in a loud, noisy, drunken bar, ad the actors were supposed to be fighting over the audience to be heard. That wasn’t the case, we were paying very close attention. So the often repetitive text became blows, over and over. We only needed to hear that the floor was lava once for Renfield, which is a shame because the man was literally standing up on a piano and that is a great image, seeing that, and the idea of his childishness played in that way, was really great for me. And then it just got repeated and it was so unnecessary. All the repition was so unnecessary.

Wesley: As I said when we left, I was never the audience for this production. The drama was meant to be an aspect of their performance but not an essential part of its success. I didn’t find anything besides the drama to take my attention and because of that I felt so apathetic to their performance. Their commitment to these characters, their commitment to their performances was fantastic. Whether it was the improvisational extremes from Paul Kite or if it’s the more reserved Justin Yorio, I could appreciate that they each brought an aspect of their craft to their performance. But in terms of the actual telling of the story, there was little I could grasp on to. And there was so little novelty in humor or in storytelling for me to have a good night with.

Robyne: I felt that this production really suffered from something I see a lot which is the lack of a strong, critical producer. Somebody who has a greater sense of the show in mind who can also level some of their experience and economy towards the work itself, the language, the humor, the staging.

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Every moment a well utilized, talented producer who the company trusts, can really bring that out, or a co-director, or an assistant director, just somebody to offer a contrary voice to not allow so much of this to run off the tracks.

Wesley: A lot of this story was unnecessary, a lot of this dialogue could have been easily noticed to not gain a response in terms of humor and gotten rid of and would have given us more time to be immersed in the space they were creating.

Robyne: There was also only one level of humor, they only offered us low-brow and a great deal of low-brow humor. There wasn’t a mixed bag, there wasn’t high-brow humor coming from Dracula and low brow humor coming from Renfield, which I felt was a shame because that would have been a wonderful balance.

Wesley: There was no character delivered with a real wit to them. They were all given to us as either satirical images of their characterization or satire of storytelling. They were never in themselves clever characters.

Robyne: or simply characters given witty dialogue.

Wesley: Granted, I cannot say I’ve seen a Three Day Hangover performance before, though I will say here I don’t feel as though I saw any aspect of Dracula that night and I was hoping I would. I was hoping I would get a sense of the portrait of Bram Stoker involved in this.  I feel as though that portrait would have been rolling its eyes and at best smirking.

Robyne: There were moments in this production that could have lended themselves wonderfully to very meta performance structure, where the one portrait of Bram Stroker is involved. There were moments where they could have broken the style and really gone for actual horror. When you are standing in that room full of people in the dark and you feel people moving around you, there are all the elements you need for some true horror. But we never got that, it was always the same one note, and it went on relentlessly and for too long.

Wesley: You read Dracula a while back and I asked you when it was done, “Does Dracula have a sincere sense of mystery and sexuality to it?” and you said you think it does.

Robyne: Right. So something I really loved about the first act of this production was there seemed to be a very clever adaption of the sexual commentary from Dracula, which, in its time, in its place, was a very risqué novel to come out. The description if the encounters, the very sexual nature of Dracula’s existence, his appearance, was initially well handled and seemed to just vanish into this myriad anachronistic reverential material.

Wesley: When they did attempt sexuality it came off like the lovers in Midsummer. It didn’t come off as people with actual sex drives. They might have been going for the cloistered sense of the Victorian but I found nothing about their existence to be grounded in actual sexuality. Every aspect of it felt like characterization. Which just brings me back to why do Dracula? Why do this piece if you’re not going to commit to any aspect of the source material? The story itself isn’t enough, there needs to be some aspect of Dracula you find enticing to put on stage. And it wasn’t the mystery, it wasn’t the sexuality, it wasn’t the politics, and it wasn’t any aspect of the death. It was on a Scary Movie level, “Hey, here’s a thing. Let’s make fun of it.”

Robyne: It almost felt as if it was a Mystery Science Theater or a Rifftrax version of a new Hollywood adaption of Dracula. I felt as if I was sitting around watching that episode with kids from high school who I didn’t really like.

Wesley: The audience was not the best.

Robyne: As an audience member I didn’t know exactly what I was being invited to, which is a huge aspect of these immersive bordering on interactive pieces. There was a lot of fun that we were invited for. When Dracula first comes out, when Michael Borelli first comes out as Dracula, and he has a marker and he “bites” peoples necks, that was fun, and went on just long enough. And Borelli had that playful, very self aware, I almost want to say folksy Dracula, that “TRANSYLVANIA” thing going, which felt completely inaccurate but funny because of its inaccuracy and worked within the world. But was not on the same level as January Lavoy’s Professor pulling out Yeunglings and shooting them off, that is a different level of fun. 

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Wesley: And an aspect of this performance was their self-referentialness, which I always found more fun if this was improv. A lot of the jokes they’re making, a lot of the things that were happening came off as though this would be great in the spontaneity of improv. But knowing that this was scripted, practiced, and rehearsed in that space, I’m not sure for how long but for any amount of time, it came off as gimmicky and patronizing to me.

Robyne: yeah, it was, again, all one note. And that’s fine for a style but you have to be aware that you’re going to alienate a great number of your audience. And unfortunately I was a both a person who loves this style but also a person who was put off by this piece. There was an absolutely wonderful moment in this production.

Wesley: Yes there was.

Robyne: Which, spoilers, once Lucy has been turned by Dracula and the rest of the company is there to end her second life, they kill the lights and they ask us to turn on the flashlights on our phones to act as the sun. Then there is a second moment of Seward and Lucy singing Total Eclipse of the Heart, which was this wonderful, bizarre, anachronistic, hyper-meta theater style choice that absolute perfection.

Wesley: It was hilarious because it was still good craftsmanship. It said something about the characters it said something about their situation, it said something about the world we were in, and it was smart too. The idea that they would be singing Total Eclipse of the Heart, to a vampire was hilarious. And I adored Miranda Noelle Wilson in that role. If this show ended in that scene this review would be going very differently right now because that scene was hilarious and heartfelt and beautiful and it came off with love of the source material.

Robyne: And the moment right before that, was a great choice, where she comes through the doors, covered in blood all over her white dress, singing Come Little Children, the song from Hocus Pocus that Sarah Jessica Parker sings coming to steal the children, and it almost felt like this was going to be a commentary on darkness and vampires and those moments were wonderful in that sense. But the ending just kind of happened.

Wesley: Not only did it just happen, it just happened for a very long time. The coda after the actual climax of Lucy’s death took forev-

Robyne: Dragged. It dragged. And I really wish we had not seen the death of Dracula. This very easily could have been forty minutes shorter. You cut at the end of that and you finish not knowing where Dracula is. You don’t tell the whole sotry and you leave – If you are ending with that monologue about ‘once darkness is introduced, despite the fact you know it isn’t real, it will always haunt you’, because society is obsessed with vampires, that would have been a wonderful place to leave off, with that monster still out there. But it jus- it was so long.

Wesley: And then were dealing with, honestly, less interesting, more grounded characters that don’t compel us in the same way that these two did simply because these two, their characters, more match the style for which they are portraying. A lot of the style I don’t like because it’s what I call ‘Fun as Aesthetic’, we’re showing you fun instead of actually having fun ourselves or making sure you have fun, we’re forcing this sense of fun upon you without actually committing to creating it in the world. But there, in that death of Lucy, it was all there for us.

Robyne: We were involved, it was a great reference, it was a great concept, the acting was wonderful in that moment, the whole, everything came together, every element of this production was there.

Wesley: And it almost makes me more angry because is shows you what the rest of this production could have been.

Robyne: Right. And at that point, after that, you’re dealing with an audience that’s been standing, not walking around and moving but standing, for two hours, that’s sobering up and those things all combine to drag out.

Wesley: All those things combine to make this ending that much less engaging.

Robyne: So then I guess the question is, Wesley, is Dracula worth the $15 ticket?

Wesley: No. Because it’s not just the $15 ticket but the amount of drinks you’d have to get from the bar to make this experience successful.

Robyne: I would argue that this is a very specific style and if that is your cup of tea, then it is absolutely worth the $15 ticket. It is fun, irreverent, nerd, bar theater, and as long as you are not going in for a reverent retelling of Dracula you can have a lot of fun at this production.

Robyne: As always, you can find us at Obstructed-View.com, on facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on twitter @Obstructed_View, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview, or email us at TheObstructedViewPodcast@gmail.com.

Wesley: I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And Robyne

Wesley: And remember,

Robyne: Blood will have blood.