Robyn Neal as Hecuba and Irma Gonzalez

The year 2010 has been the year of the extreme popularity for vampires, in films, television, and novels. Plays about Dracula are popping up all over the country at this time of year, including three in the North Florida area. If you are a fan of the genre, have no fear, vampires will not disappear like eight track tapes, VCRs, or pagers. No sir, as long at Halloween remains a popular holiday, vampires will still be lurking about trying to satisfy their appetites.
You can find some at Players by the Sea, which opened Dracula for a run through October 31, in the Studio Stage at 106 Sixth Street North in Jacksonville Beach. This is a retelling of the 1897 Bram Stoker novel as adapted by local actor/director/playwright Samuel Willis who gives a unique but definitive interpretation of infamous Count. I’m not sure who he will remind you of when you see the play, but to the Dual Critics, at times he brought to mind Michael Jackson and leaders of heavy metal bands. Long is a good word to describe his appearance, as he is wearing a long black floor length coat, and has long black shoulder length hair and long nervous fingers with long finger nails.
The storyline follows one we have come to know, that of Stoker’s novel, with Count Dracula planning to leave his castle in Transylvania to move to the heavy populated city of London. Jonathan Harker (Joel Davis), a young attorney, has traveled to the castle to help with arrangements for the move. He finds himself a prisoner, and is seduced the count’s three sexy wives played by Chelsae Newberry, Nicole Marie Pokorny, and Leslie Levey. When we opened the program prior to the show, we wondered by Luke Willis is listed a Choreographer; when you see this sensual, scintillating scene you will know why.
Jayme Hillyer is Mina Murray, a simple, very attractive school mistress and the future wife of lawyer Jonathan. Her best friend Lucy Westernra is played by Tiffany Terrell. She is a blond bombshell, who reminded us of Madonna, but is much prettier. Lucy is being pursued for her hand in marriage by the head of the local insane asylum, Dr. Jack Steward (Micah Taylor), and a handsome rich guy, Lord Quincey Holmwood (Brooks Studier). Dr. Jack has his hands full with R. M. Renfield (Robert Thames), an asylum inmate who worships Dracula, and enjoys eating flies and playing with spiders.
If you know anything at all about vampires, it is that they are night people who are all on a liquid diet, namely blood. It is not long before Dracula is doing his thing, and it is not long before he puts the bite on the lovely Lucy and turns her into one of the undead.
It is at this point that the final character enters the play, the unflappable Professor Van Helsing (Roger Lowe), expert in the matter of the supernatural, who formulates plans to save the fair damsels and put an end to the dreaded Dracula.
Playwright Willis has added a surprise ending, which we will not reveal.
The show is rather campy and frequently funny. The price of admission does not include any vampire deterrents like whole garlic, mirrors or crosses, so bring your own, although there are plenty to be found on stage so you will probably be safe.
Lighting Designer Jim Wiggins and Special Effects coordinator Matt Calise did a wonderful job of making things spooky. All the action takes place on one set, which has black walls and flooring, at times bathed in red light. High above the stage is a large video screen that changes frequently to orient the audience to locations where things are happening (cities, streets, the asylum, etc).
In keeping with the gothic theme, Costume Designer Deborah Wolfe had the cast in clothing with silhouettes appropriate to the era, most in black fabrics, with occasional splashes of an anachronistic red. Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist Miranda Lawson came up with terrific effects for Mina and Lucy.
The multi- talented Mr. Willis is usually found on stage in musicals in this area and he has done an excellent job of both acting and directing in “Dracula”. Samuel did leave off one stage credit, that I personally think was one of this best; that as El Gallo in The Fantasticks. It was good to see a lot of new young talent on the Players stage, all of whom performed well. Kasi Walters is Assistant Director and Craig Leavitt is State Manager.
Visit www.playersbythesea.org or call 249-0289 for reservations, and ask about the special midnight performances of Dracula.