Dallas — Even if you’re not into horror, you’re in for thought-provoking performance when Theatre Three opens its 2019-2020 season with Dracula. Dallas-based playwright Michael Federico has reworked Bram Stoker’s 19th-century Gothic novel to take on contemporary themes of gender and power. His version of Dracula is staged from the perspective of Mina, Dracula’s object of desire and Harker’s fiancée. In this vision, Dracula and Van Helsing, usually played by male actors, will be played by women. Allison Pistorius appears in the titular role, while Gloria Vivica Benavides is the vampire hunter. Mina is played by Natalie Young.
Dracula is directed by Christie Vela, Associate Artistic Director of Theatre Three. The cast also includes Natalie Hope Johnson, Ian Mead Moore, Josh Bangle, and Kat Lozano, with Paul T. Taylor, who played Pinhead in 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgement, as Renfield.
When Vela first proposed to Federico that they open the 2019-2020 season with Dracula, Federico initially argued that there was nothing more to say about Dracula. Federico felt that Dracula was only worth staging if he and Vela could find something new to say through the story. It was Vela who conceived of the idea to re-imagine the story from Mina’s perspective. “I’ve always sympathized with Mina and felt like she needed to have more agency in the story,” she told Federico.
Meanwhile, weeks of extensive research on vampire folklore led Federico to discover that many early vampire myths actually revolve around female characters. Both Vela and Federico decided that adapting the story from Mina’s point of view would allow audiences to experience the Dracula story in a new way. In fact, Vela pointed out that had the original story not be written by a Victorian man for whom writing a novel with a female protagonist must have been inconceivable, Mina would likely have been the central character of the story. To both Vela and Federico, retelling the story through Mina’s eyes made sense.
“It’s the Zeitgeist right now, kind of flipping everything,” Vela says.
While this adaptation is meant to give voice to the current cultural and political moment, Federico also points out that performing Dracula from Mina’s perspective has inherent dramatic value. “Whether it’s in Victorian England or 2019, generally speaking, it has always been very clear to me that women have to deal with a lot more shit than do men,” Federico says. “And to me, that starts from a much more interesting dramatic place — if you have more to overcome because of societal norms and rules and also if more is expected of you.”
Despite the title character being played by a woman, in this version it is unclear whether Dracula has a gender. “This is a play about vampires… Vampires are vampires,” Pistorius says.
Federico’s version of Dracula will emphasize the contrast between the “old world” symbolized by Dracula’s Romanian origins versus the “new world” of London. Federico wrote Dracula as an intentionally ancient, perhaps prehistoric figure. Aesthetically, the set and staging will reflect this mythical, antique history, and the script includes elements in Romanian, as a way to draw attention to Dracula’s discomfit in the modern world.
Pistorius picks up on Federico’s characterization of Dracula: “I think this idea that this is a being that [Dracula] has been around for a long time affected the physicality of it for me,” she says. “There was a sense of wisdom and stillness that I think has infused the way that I behave, in a way that people who are a little bit older — the things that happen don’t affect them as much or as immediately because you get the sense that [they think] ‘Oh, I’ve seen this’ or ‘I know how this is going to play out.’ ”
Pistorius’ Dracula will be played with as much empathy as antiquity. “One of the best acting lessons I ever learned is that real power doesn’t ever have to prove itself,” she adds, describing her approach to the role. “The most powerful person in a room is often the most gracious and the most accommodating and the stillest…and in that sense that’s exactly who Dracula is: incredibly powerful and also knowledgeable about that power so that there is never a sense of excess or of having to shove it in anyone’s face or of having to prove it.”
Federico also notes that this version of the story is a nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1992 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Like Coppola did in that film, Theatre Three’s Dracula uses a series of old-fashioned effects to build both humor and Gothic qualities into the production.
“This is not your modern mumblecore, It Follows-type of horror,” says Vela, who co-hosts the Terror and Tacos podcast with Federico. “This is like high-stakes drama with a lot of sound and a lot of music. Everything is very important and operatic.”
At the same time, although it’s a high-stakes, operatic investigation of contemporary questions about gender, Vela notes, with a laugh, “Michael and I just wanted to have a scary story!”
“And murder!” adds Federico.
» Dracula begins preview performances on Thursday, Oct. 3, officially opens on Monday, Oct. 7, and runs through Oct. 27. Keeping a Halloween theme, Theatre Three's downstairs space, Theatre Too!, will host late-night performances of Danielle Georgiou Dance Group's The Bippy Bobby Boo Show, Oct. 25-Nov. 2 (with a special performance on Halloween).