Geva Theatre resurrects a horrifying classic with “Dracula”

We're all familiar with the tale of Count Dracula. Pop culture has been feeding off it for decades. From the silent classic Nosferatu to "The Vampire Diaries," people have always had a fascination with the undead creatures of the night.

On Oct. 14, The Geva Theatre in Rochester featured Steven Dietz's adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. This version utilizes the classic elements of suspense and personified fear that made the original novel such a success, while creating a unique stage experience that alters the layout of the story.

Dietz specifically plays off Stoker's device of journal entries and internal monologues to show his characters' thoughts. The playwright wanted to drift away from the idea of Dracula as a metaphoric device and present him in the literal form: "A brilliant, seductive, fanged beast waiting to suck the blood from your throat," Stoker described.

The show began with a sinister yet comedic introduction by the madman Renfield, brilliantly portrayed by Dieterich Gray, who breaks the fourth wall and discusses the infamous character of Dracula. This kind of diversion from the typical presentation of the story is what makes this adaption something truly special.

Although the timeline of the plot is altered, the classic story is still present. Instead of beginning with Jonathan Harker's travels in Transylvania, we're introduced to the alluring young Lucy (Jennifer Joan Thompson) and her dear friend Mina (Lee Stark). Lucy explains her predicament of being torn between various suitors while Mina tells of her husband's travels to Eastern Europe. Harker (Jason Bradley) naïvely expresses his excitement when he first arrives in Transylvania through letters to his wife.

However, anyone familiar with the tale is well aware of Harker's fate which makes the prolonged introduction of the title character all the more suspenseful. Seward (Erik Hellman), the primary physician in a mental asylum, proposes to Lucy. To his dismay, she declines due to her fickle nature but expresses that he is a true friend. This does not ease his stress at having to deal with Renfield, his patient at the asylum who proves to be a difficult subject. Gray depicts Renfield with a perfect balance of humor and disturbed intensity.

All of these events build up anticipation for Dracula's arrival. At this point, each of the characters' individual struggles comes to a climax: Lucy is plagued by sleepwalking and nightmares, Mina fears for her husband's safety after he stops sending letters and Renfield's madness peaks. The plot truly unfolds when Harker returns in a state of shock and Lucy becomes ill with suspicious marks on her neck. The adaptation manipulates our knowledge of the story and leaves the audience yearning for what's to come.

Wade McCollum's performance as Dracula blends the wit and chilling presence of the original with fiery sex appeal. His greatest weapon is his hypnotic stare and the alarming talon on his index finger that he often points at his prey. Tom McElroy creates as worthy an adversary in the hero Van Helsing. He combines the warmth of an elderly grandpa with the ferocity of a hunter.

The Geva Theater exhibits its undeniable quality in lavish sets and costumes that truly complement the production as a whole. The use of impressive special effects such as a suspended coffin and haunting red eyes of bats in the background immerses the audience in the magic and horror of the story.

"Dracula" proves that you don't need excessive gore or roaring chainsaws to produce horror. The idea of vampirism in itself has always evoked fear and this adaptation is truly palpable. Audience members might think twice about opening their windows at night.