Sunday, December 27, 2009

review - House of Besarab

House of Besarab
conceived and written by Terance Duddy & Theodore Ott
produced and directed by Terance Duddy
The Hollywood American Legion Theater
through January 17, 2010 (possibly beyond) (Since I am reviewing this production late in the run and because of its extension into 2010, it will be in consideration for my year-end list of Bests for 2010.)
Not since the ultra successful Tamara, which played the American Legion for a record 11 years (Duddy was one of its producers), has an environmental play been so well received. Certainly the House of Besarab is an exciting concept: to visit Dracula's castle in Transylvania, to move around from room to room, peeking in on what's going on, whilst the atmosphere of the dark, musty place plays enticingly upon one's senses. In the Great Hall, where much of the exposition takes place, it was so cold the night I was there. "How perfect!" I thought. Would I expect to be warm in the home of the undead? Every creak, every rustling of fire or paper affected my eyes and ears, as I attempted to listen to the characters and get caught up in the satanic plot.
The ensemble, headed by Michael Hegedus as Dracula, is superb. Hegedus is attractive, suave, charming and seductive all in one breath. Chase McKenna as Mina is simply divine. Under the spell of Count Dracula, her Mina is the ultimate victim, thoroughly intense in her trance-like state, emotionally evocative and lovely to behold. Dane Bowman makes a dutiful Jonathan Harker and is especially effective in his fight scene with Slava, a newly trained servant of Dracula. Travis Michael Holder uses chilling restraint in his portrayal of Dr. Van Helsing. It is easy to go over the top with this role, as Van Helsing is Dracula's foremost enemy, but Holder maintains a perfect balance of strength and fright. Equally convincing is Terra Shelman as Dr. Seward, who has more reaction than dialogue, and as a focused reactor, she is right on target. Sara Spink and Megan Harwick are the vixens of the castle - Dracula's human mistresses - Riva and Cruza respectively. Playtoys for Dracula, these creatures play quite heavily into the Count's demonic plan for the future. Two understudies performed on the night I attended: Adam T. Rosencrance as Slava (normally played by Jason Parsons) and Terance M. Duddy as Renfield (usually played by David Himes). Because of following certain characters - which is expected of the audience, I missed Slava's first scene, so can only comment on his skill in the duel, but Duddy as Renfield, for me, lacked a certain psychotic craze which I prefer to see in Renfield. Duddy played him more of a scared, impish knave.
As to the overall script, it's engaging, but could use more fleshing out. Rather than be told that I could not follow Renfield, as he only serves the master, I think it might be fun to catch him in his quarters...say, eating insects or in some perplexed state of bewilderment over his misplaced loyalty. As we are restricted to the foyer, the guest bedroom and the Great Hall - all on one floor - it might be more intriguing to move, for example. to the grand entryway as Van Helsing and Seward make their first entrance and then follow them to the bedroom, if we choose. Give the audience more options! As is, the assistant stage manager Austin Grehan was more than accomodating in leading us to and from the different locales. It would take a few more warm bodies to assist in moving audience around to various other places on different levels - and that's quite a lot to expect of an Equity waiver play.
Another constructive criticism I heard from some audience patrons was that it might help to include more exposition in every scene about what happened previously - elsewhere, so the audience does not have to guess about elements of the plot they were not physically privy to. In Act II, I missed Riva's miracle in the foyer, but heard little about it from the characters after they entered the Great Hall for the finale. And, of course, there's always the part about the amusing, campy side of Dracula, which seems to be lacking in this version.
Overall, a wonderfully exciting piece of theatre, beautifully acted and executed. Praise also to David Gibson for his low key music and sound design, to Sara Spink for affecting period costume design and to Miliza Milo who as the Gypsy Woman cautions us to accept rosary beads to save our souls, as we enter the stark and startlingly awesome House of Besarab.
4 out of 5 stars


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