by David Pierce
The Iowa City Community Theatre’s (ICCT’s) production of Dracula is short on scares but full of campy fun.
There are a few ways you can go with Dracula. One way is to emphasize the horror, playing up the creepy psycho-sexual side of the story. Considering this is ICCT’s Halloween show, you wouldn’t be surprised if that was the target at which the production aimed. But this production of Dracula isn’t trying to scare or creep out anyone. Instead, it’s target is campy fun, and it hits that target far more than it misses it.
The pre-show music, a selection of songs that would have felt at home on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball in the 80s, and the set, which looks like it was modeled off the covers of knock-off Harlequin romances, sets the tone nicely. Josh Sazon (Renfield) opens the play with a fourth-wall breaking monologue before being hauled off to his room in an insane asylum. Sazon gives one of the best performance I’ve seen in a long time, an over-the-top acting symphony filled with volume changes and tempo changes that steals the show every time he’s onstage. It’s language as music, and I loved it.
Brian Tanner (Van Helsing) and Jen Brown (Lucy) also give strong performances in two roles requiring transformations from their characters. Tanner slowly unravels the vampire hunter’s madness, starting out as a calm, reasoned scientist and ending almost as mad as Renfield. Brown’s Lucy begins as a not-quite demure upper-class maiden and ends as a seductive vampiress. Each gives a performance that makes their respective transformations both fun and believable.
There are a few missteps along the way. There is a short light bank set near the floor on both sides of the stage, and while that usually creates a really cool effect, it sometimes leaves the set muddled and characters physically in the dark. The costuming isn’t consistent – Dracula in particular seems to be costumed in a different era from all the other characters. Finally, the last part of the second act gets sloppy, with confusing blocking, distracting lighting, and dialogue that is at times hard to hear. It feels like the last 20-30 minutes of the show needed to be rehearsed a few more times to work out all the issues.
Still, this is a show you should go see. It’s got slithering vixens with custom-made fangs, uptight doctors, the king of the vampires, and a whole lot of fun for the audience.