The Night of Nosferatu
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
September 28, 2007
Everyone knows the story of Dracula: Boy gets girl, boy leaves girl, boy loses girl to ghoul, boy gets girl back. Film versions have tried in vain for years to match the mastery of the original Nosferatu without success. Theatrical versions have tried as well, usually to the chagrin of the playmakers (Night of the Vampire, anyone?).
Thus it gives me great pleasure to share with you my experience with The Night of Nosferatu. Re-imagined by playwright Stanton Wood and executed with confidence by director Edward Elefterion, The Night of Nosferatu is actually the marriage of two other pieces covering similar subject matter, Land of the Undead and The Morning of My Death.
The former piece occupies part one of The Night of Nosferatu wherein we journey with Jonathan Harker to Count Nosferatu's castle in the Carpathians to present him with a contract for some real estate. The latter is the other side of the story, how things unfold once the Count reaches London on his quest for property and Mina. (And yes, there's an unspoken joke in here somewhere about real estate and vampirism.)
Someone asked me what the point could be of retelling a story we all know perhaps a little too well. My response is that to do so can be both challenging and fun, as is this production. The actors, all game, all talented, seem to genuinely enjoy their work onstage, which resonated heartily with the audience.
At first I was suspicious of some of the casting choices. Paul Daily, who plays Harker, seemed too slight and vulnerable for the ambitious man requested by the Count. Then it dawned on me that slight and vulnerable is exactly the sort of person who would be taken advantage of by Nosferatu.
When I first heard the voice of the Count, played with humor and charm by the very likable Matt W. Cody, I wasn't sure I'd be convinced by him either. For one thing, his Count speaks perfect English. When we met the Count, however, all doubt left my mind. Cody's Nosferatu is cunning and creepy, sure, but I'd still love to have dinner with him. Makeup artist Courtney Daily deserves a round of applause for making the Count look creepy—not unlike the Nosferatu of the movies—yet believable.
Tatiana Gomberg brings a quiet radiance to the darkness that clouds the character of Mina. There is clearly a hole in this woman's life, and Gomberg offers us a look into that hole without playing a victim.
As for the rest of this well-rounded, game-for-anything cast, Danny Ashkenasi (Renfield), Emily Hartford (Lucy), and Ned Massey (Westenra) are spectacular, and so full of life I stopped thinking about who was lead or supporting and relished the actors' use of their bodies and the space. Hartford is versatile enough to play a peasant woman, the sister of the Count, and a horse in addition to her role of Lucy. Her peasant woman deserves a show of her own. Ashkenasi offers the only believable Renfield I've ever seen, and I've seen myriad film and stage versions of the vampire tale. As for Massey, well, if the other actors weren't so evenly matched, he easily would've stolen the show.
Director Elefterion has a talent for letting the story and the actors speak for themselves. Aside from a few small, well-thought-out props and some clip lights there isn't much of a set. Elefterion has the good sense to let the actors and not a bunch of flashy costumes and set pieces tell the story. Rather than inserting whimsical touches and imposing a heavy style on the piece, which so often happens with tales of the vampire, Elefterion focuses the story and provides a very clear path for the actors to take as they give life to Wood's crisp, modern, and all-around excellent script.
It's a talent that is much harder to execute than it looks, and one that requires maturity and experience. The talent for making things look simple and easy, which necessitates creativity, can also be a lot of fun. Let's just say this play gets the award for best use of the black black-box curtains ever.
The lighting design by Kevin Hardy complements Elefterion's Spartan sentiment—the design lights the journey but doesn't get in the way of telling a good story.
The Night of Nosferatu doesn't really try to scare, but it does, in its own quiet way, thrill. It also refuses to take itself too seriously, yet wisely resists the temptation to be campy. I wasn't jolted from my seat with fear, but upon leaving the theater and choosing an empty stairwell instead of the elevator, I was a teensy bit nervous.
If you want to be entertained, hear a good story, and have fun, then head to the WorkShop Theatre to see The Night of Nosferatu.