“I never drink … wine” … garlic and crosses … “Listen to them, cheeeeldren of the night” … Professor Van Helsing … “I vant to suck your blood!” … In the 116 years since Bram Stoker published his vampire novel to widespread indifference, the tropes of Dracula have become so deeply ingrained in popular culture that they seem to belong more to folklore than to Stoker (or, for that matter, Bela Lugosi, Max Schreck, Christopher Lee, and the innumerable other public faces of the count).
When was the last time you read the book? For Karam Yousif, the director of act OUT’s new production of Dracula at the Registry Theatre, the answer was never. Returning to the source material proved a revelation.
“Reading the original novel, you kind of understand why Dracula has been so popular,” said Yousif. “There’s an allure to him as a character – he is an evil character, but he also has a good in him, and I think a lot of people identify with his point of view. He is what he is.”Act OUT’s interpretation of Dracula features a cast ranging from 12 to 17 years of age, none of whom needed any introduction to the mythology. “There have been so many adaptations of Dracula that a lot of the cast obviously knew it,” said Yousif.
“They’d seen a movie or a cartoon, or even something as small as Count von Count on Sesame Street. There’s been so many adaptations the cast was familiar with the character himself – but not a single one had read the book.”
Even if they weren’t experts on its history, the young cast found Stoker’s story to be resonant. “I think they really understand the terror of it – they understand the seriousness of the story,” said Yousif. “They understand his plight – he does what he does because he has to, and not because he chooses to. I think that’s something that they understand well, which I’m really happy about, because that is Dracula. He is his own animal.
“It can be looked at as a tragedy,” Yousif added. “Because even though Dracula is an evil character, he’s not necessarily all that we assume he is. We don’t know how he became who he is, but we know that deep down inside, he has a human side.”
It’s this human side that Yousif believes will connect with audiences in any season – not simply the autumn months with which all things gothic and spooky are normally associated. “We felt that Dracula is above and beyond the Halloween season,” said Yousif. “He stands alone. The book itself was written over a century ago, and it’s definitely survived for a reason. We feel Dracula doesn’t need Halloween to be successful.”
Oh, and by the way: even though vampires have been in vogue of late, Yousif would prefer it if you not think too much about that other vampire literature phenomenon. “This is one thing I told my cast before the show: this is not Twilight. This isn’t your gimmicky, glamour, glittery kind of vampire. There is a lot of substance to Dracula, and it’s not as simple.”
Dracula will be performed at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener today (Saturday) at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-18, available at through the venue at www.registrytheatre.com.