Dracula descends on Ellicott City in lively Chesapeake Shakespeare Company production - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Dracula descends on Ellicott City in lively Chesapeake Shakespeare Company production

The ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City are said to be haunted. (Jessica Lynn Dotson)

A darkened theater is an eerie enough place to watch the quintessential vampire alight.  Set the stage outside after dark – amongst ghostly ruins – and you have the perfect recipe for one bone-chilling evening of entertainment.

The ruins of the old Patapsco Female Institute (PFI) in historic Ellicott City provides the appropriate chill for the current Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) production of the classic horror play, Dracula.

This movable blood-feast allows the audience to follow the actors throughout the grounds of the dimly lit PFI park, shuffling around the haunted habitat as they watch the ghastly ghoul go about his crimson work.  Those with a nervous disposition should note the “haunted” part of this description is not hyperbole.  Numerous witnesses have attested to seeing the specter of a long-dead young woman gliding through the halls of the ruins.

There have been several stage plays and countless films built around Bram Stoker’s gothic novel.  This production features the 1928 adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston.  For many, the story of Dracula is a familiar one.

Lucy Seward (Blythe Coons) is tormented by nightmares of the mysterious Count Dracula. (Teresa Castracane)

Lucy Seward (Blythe Coons) is tormented by nightmares of the mysterious Count Dracula. (Teresa Castracane)

At a small sanatarium, somewhere in foggy olde England, a series of strange events leads to the unexplained death of one patient (Mina) and the growing madness of another (Renfield).  The bewildered director (Dr. Seward) sends an urgent letter to a German scientist named Van Hesling, noting that even the doctor’s own daughter (Lucy) is starting to act out-of-sorts.Van Hesling arrives and quickly surmises that a vampire is on the prowl.  His chief suspects are the madman Renfield and a mysterious neighbor from Transylvania name Dracula.  A garland of wolfsbane, a crucifix and a pocketful of consecrated Hosts is employed in keeping the blood-sucking monster at bay.  I don’t believe I’m giving away the store when I say that in the end, Van Hesling and company take the vampire out for a hearty stake.

The acting in this production is both fine and fun, with a couple of over-the-top turns by Matthew Ancarrow as Renfield and Scott Graham as Van Helsing.  Both actors chew a lot of scenery in playing their respective characters, but in a show as well known as Dracula, larger-than-life characterizations carry a certain charm.

Dr. Seward (Frank Mancino) and Jonathan Harker (Matthew Sparacino) are startled by howling dogs.  In the background is Laura Rocklyn as Miss Wells, a maid. (Teresa Castracane)

Dr. Seward (Frank Mancino) and Jonathan Harker (Matthew Sparacino) are startled by howling dogs. In the background is Laura Rocklyn as Miss Wells, a maid. (Teresa Castracane)

Dr. Seward is ably portrayed by Frank Mancino, while Blythe Coons heart-fully beckons as his frail daughter, Lucy.Lucy’s fiancé Jonathan Harker has little to do besides look helpless but extremely noble, and Matthew Sparacino does a great job conveying Harker’s august ineptitude.Laura Rocklyn has some funny moments as the chipper cockney maid Miss Wells, and Robby Rose looks appropriately menacing as Dr. Seward’s musclebound second, Butterworth.

Michael P. Sullivan, who always seems to give well-measured performances, appears in the title role of Dracula.  The role is so indelibly linked to Bela Lugosi that most actors get caught up in an imitation and the inevitable comparisons.  Kudos to Sullivan for employing a light touch in his nod to Lugosi while bringing the stock character to life.

Director Scott Alan Small keeps the action tight but running.  Even with the movable aspect of this production, the cast and crew never seemed to miss a beat.  A passing rain shower precipitated a pause the night I attended causing the show to stop, while the entire assembly took cover beneath a cozy, well lighted tent.  Once Dracula resumed after about a 20 minute wait, the proceedings easily picked right back up from where we had left off.

Costume designer Kristina Lambdin selected. selected eye-catching and elegant costumes for the players, from the requisite greatcoats of the male actors to the Victorian apparel of the damsel in distress.

Matthew Ancarrow as the lunatic, Renfield, in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Dracula.  (Teresa Castracane)

Matthew Ancarrow as the lunatic, Renfield, in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Dracula. (Teresa Castracane)

At times, the sound design of Scott Farquhar employed recognizable movie music, but it’s all in good fun.  A louder pistol shot off-stage would have certainly helped in one of the scenes; a minor quibble.Daniel O’Brien’s lighting accentuated the spooky shadows of stony ruins.  The support staff did a great job of shepherding the audience from one scene to the next.This show is highly recommended for adults and for children ages 10 and older.  Pre-ordering tickets is strongly recommended as this weekend’s shows have already sold out.  Tickets do remain however for the last three shows on Oct. 29,30 and 31.

CSC reminds its patrons to check the weather before setting out.  If needed, wear layers (it can get quite cold!).  Plan for a 1/5 of a mile walk from the court house parking lot uphill to the PFI Park.  CSC also advises its patrons to bring a flashlight along for safety.

Dracula runs from now – October 31.  Tickets may be purchased by calling 410-313-8661 Monday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. or online.

Fans of the CSC may also want to mark their calendars for three upcoming productions: The Merry Wives of Windsor (Feb. 14 – March 9, 2014), and As You Like It and The Crucible concurrently (June 13 – Aug. 3, 2014).  The Merry Wives of Windsor will be staged at the Black Box Theater at Howard County Center for the Arts.  As You Like It and The Crucible can be seen when the company returns to the PFI ruins next summer.  Information about these shows and the renovation of the new CSC home in downtown Baltimore may be found here.


About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!; SmartCEO; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland; Los Angeles Post-Examiner; Alvarez Fiction and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.
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