Voices Found Repertory enters the Halloween season with the premiere of a new historical horror drama on Twitch. Pharyne Gremore’s They Call Me Dracula is a haunting, little Shakespearian-style political drama based on the life of Vlad Țepeș--the man who served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story moves briskly in a taut reading of a new script.
Chase Stante has a rich, hearty voice of a powerful voice actor in the role of the Drunkard that Vlad meets in prison at the beginning of the story. (Stante adds impressive atmosphere around the edges of the staging in a variety of different roles in the course of the drama.) Vlad is in possession of the severed head of his own father. It’s not been a horrifying time for him over the course of the recent past. Dazzlingly dark Maggie Marks conjures a smoldering intensity as the dark hero Vlad Tepes. They call him Dracula. As the drama begins, Marks’ corner of the screen is darkness and shadow. When she tilts her head in the right direction and she practically disappears. As the play opens, the deposed ruler Vlad is being freed from prison so that he may seek his vengeance against his usurper John Hunyadi. Thomas Sebald wields steely intensity as the opening antagonist.
There are restless motions cascading about the political intrigue which comes to a head at the infamous Easter feast which serves a a climactic moment which ends the first act. There’s a slow, steady build-up to the single most legendary scene in the life of Vlad. (That Easter dinner is the one thing most people know about him.) Gremore orchestrates the sinister energy of the Easter feast with cleverly increasing intensity.
On the other side of intermission, the pacing increases considerably. Any anti-hero-like momentum that Marks materializes onto the screen in the early part of the play plunges into a very, very deep darkness after intermission. Having set-up some of the pathology of one of ancient history’s most infamous mass murderers, Gremore allows him to move into deeper darkness as the drama’s ultra-archvillain. Marks plays uber-villain with a stylish depth.
Tethered to a wife he does not love, Vlad is engaged in an extramarital affair with a woman who has the stomach for Vlad’s bloody politics that his wife Ilona lacks. They engage in fantasies of murdering his wife as foreplay as she watches-on from the shadows. This drama mixes with moments of a particularly grizzly sentence is passed on a woman for a similar crime. Caroline Dopson is thrillingly cold as Vlad’s mistress Maria. 90 minutes or so into the drama, Hayley Ebinal is given the opportunity to show the steely passion of an aggressively compassionate and pious woman. One of the sharpest dramatic scenes in the entire drama takes place between Vlad’s wife Ilona and his mistress Maria. If there’s a straight-ahead hero in the drama, it’s her. Ebinal is fairly fearless as the wife of a monster who is trying to understand him.
The whole thing plays very much like a Macbeth or Hamlet might have done had either of the title characters been a bloodthirsty, slickly inhuman monster. By the time it reaches its end, the drama lacks the clever architecture of Shakespeare’s most loved works. Aside from the occasional slow patch in the dramatic rhythm of the script, the overall momentum of the story maintains for a couple of hours.
Though it feels a bit ponderous at 2.5 hours, the play has more than enough moments to carry the evening. Gremore cleverly inserts vampiric references throughout the script. They’re paying homage to the legend of Dracula, but they’re also suggesting that the first vampire might have come about when a single person was driven to absurd extremes due to an earthbound psychological pathology. This is a clever new twist on vampire lore: it’s not magic. It’s just what happens when people suffer enough injustice to truly become monsters.
They Call Me Dracula has two more performances: Saturday Oct. 23rd at 7:00 pm and Saturday, Oct. 31st at 10:00 pm on Twitch. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.