brides

Vampiric brides (Emma Yarian, Caroline Kelly Farmer and Audrey Fischer) dance dangerously about Jonathan Harker (Jesse Saywell) in Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi’s production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photo by Jan Glasband

PICTURED: Vampiric brides (Emma Yarian, Caroline Kelly Farmer and Audrey Fischer) dance dangerously about Jonathan Harker (Jesse Saywell) in Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi’s production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photo by Jan Glasband

by Emily Dodi

What’s that chill in the air? It could be the fall weather, or it could be Bram Stoker’s Dracula, onstage at ARTSpace Black Box Theater in Simi Valley through Oct. 31. Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi presents the classic gothic horror story, adapted for the stage and directed by Patrick John McMahon. McMahon also stars as Count Dracula, aka Nosferatu, aka the original vampire who set the standard for countless others to follow. 

Set in the late 19th century, the play begins ominously with the upper-crust Englishman Jonathan Harker (Jesse Saywell) arriving in Romania to help a mysterious new client, a Transylvanian nobleman, secure an estate in England.  The local townspeople (Constance Chamberlain, John Manahan and others) as well as the local innkeeper (Justin Young) try to scare off Harker with harrowing stories about the man’s tyranny. Yet the earnest solicitor persists in keeping his appointment with the notorious Count Dracula and the rest, as they say, is history. Harker soon realizes that he is more prisoner than guest in the dank castle, where Dracula seems to live alone except for three ghostly and deadly brides (Caroline Kelly, Audrey Grace Fischer, Emma Yarian) who move sinuously in dances choreographed by Dawn Cosgrove.

The play tracks Dracula’s bloodlust all the way from Romania to the streets of London. As the body count rises, the good Dr. Jack Seward (a very fine Christopher Gomez) enlists the help of the destined-to-be-famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, played with zeal by John Dantona. Assisting them are Quincy P. Morris, an American gunslinger played by a refreshing Nick Caisse, and Arthur Holmwood (Alec Reusch), whose fiancée, the lovely Lucy Westenra (Emily Margolin), catches the count’s deadly eye.

Others drawn into the dark tale include Lucy’s mother (Taylor Naud), the hapless Mr. McIntosh (Christopher Robin Ruben stepping in for Luther Cockrill), Dr. Seward’s assistant, Ms. Balcolmb (Tiffany Berg McMahon, who also serves as assistant director), and Nurse Fiona (Isabel Ernst). Lily Hamilton is lovely to watch as the brave and dutiful Mina Murray, who literally risks her neck to trap the vampire. Then there is Renfield, of course, Dracula’s creepy, bug-eating sycophant played with relish by Nathan Kowalczyk.

The production is accompanied by a live band featuring a rotation of talented musicians including musical director and arranger Cavit Celayir-Monezis on keyboard and synth, Laura Vivino, Aubrey Sheiman and Jennifer Wood on flute, Kerry Riddle and Janet Stuhr on clarinet, Jenice Rosen on bassoon, RayDean Mize and Judy Garf on violin, and Beryl Canale and Chris McCarty on cello. The music, including selections from Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns and Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, does an excellent job of setting the tone and heightening the tension. 

With dozens of scene, prop and costume changes, the production crew deserves applause for their tremendous work. Joshua Stapel and Sheryl Jo Bedal created elegant costumes, including Dracula’s signature (and stylish) cape. Wig master Luis Ramirez skillfully coiffed the actors, while Eunice Sanchez created a vast array of pitch-perfect props. Hannah Higbee operated the lightboard with finesse and sound tech Jacob Wade helped to create the right ambience.

McMahon’s version adheres closely to Stoker’s work, and his passion for the material is clear. Clocking in at almost two hours and 45 minutes (including intermission) this production takes its time in telling the macabre tale. Not recommended for children younger than 14.


Bram Stoker’s Dracula through Oct. 31 at Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi, 2956 School St., Simi Valley. For tickets and more information, visit www.actorsrepofsimi.org