As with other local theater organizations, Tennessee Repertory Theatre is jumping into the Halloween spirit with a new production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which officially opens Oct. 30 at TPAC’s Polk Theater for a run through Nov. 9. (There’s also an Oct. 29 preview performance.) Under the direction of Rep producing artistic director David Grapes, this vampire tale is distinguished by an original adaptation, conceived by Grapes and executed by veteran dramaturge Robert Neblett, who has consulted previously with the Rep on productions of Cyrano de Bergerac, Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew.
In this case, the setting for Dracula’s nocturnal activities is Los Angeles in the late 1940s, in a sanitarium for the rich and famous. Stoker’s gothic mise-en-scène becomes the Hollywood film noir world of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. “I probably first thought about this idea about 20 years ago,” Grapes says. “After reading all the available stage adaptations, we wanted to take the basic idea and apply a strong stylistic approach. We’ve done a complete rewrite of the story, using this opportunity to [rethink the] characters, including the private investigator Abe Van Helsing, as played by Henry Haggard. I had in mind the specific actors who would play the key roles, Henry in particular. He does a fabulous job with the hard-boiled narration.”
Steven Hauck, a veteran of previous Rep productions, including How I Learned to Drive, An Ideal Husband and 12 Angry Men, returns to Nashville to portray Dracula. “He’ll play the role very differently from Bela Lugosi,” says Grapes. “The seduction scenes, where Dracula is feeding on his victims, certainly have a sexual element. I would say it’s a PG-13 show, though the version we’ll present to our weekday HOT student audiences will be appropriately toned down.”
Scriptwriter Neblett recently relocated to Nashville from St. Louis, where, besides working as a director, he has also been an actor. His stage credits even include the role of Renfield, Dracula’s “sidekick,” in a more traditional production of this play. His reworking of the story involved the challenge of maintaining the title character’s suave sophistication and romantic elements within the newly updated environment. “Dracula still has his elegant, poetic passages,” Neblett says. “This is a nightmarish, nonlinear adaptation, with archetypal noir scenes, including images of The Maltese Falcon. We’re going more for a suspense feel than a horror feel, but there are still very spooky moments.”
The production benefits from Gary Hoff’s art deco-inspired set design and from Phillip Franck’s lightingwhich, as in any good noir movie, plays a key role in establishing the proper ambience. Barbara Pope provides the period costumes, and Darin Karnes’ tense soundscapes furnish the aural atmosphere.
“I’d been wanting to do an adaptation like this for several years,” Neblett continues. “This particular incarnation benefited from structural ideas from David, and the work began in late February of this year. So it’s been a fairly quick birth. The script was custom-made for this production, and even in rehearsals it has continued to evolve. We find ourselves changing a word here or making an insertion there.”
Besides Haggard and Hauck, director Grapes has drawn his cast from a mixed bag of local talent and out-of-towners, including Jeremy Childs, Grant Goodman, Jason Heil, Denice Hicks, Herbert Mark Parker, Brian Webb Russell and Mindy Woodhead.
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