I did something cool Monday night. Friends of mine invited me to their house to see a one-man show of Dracula, performed in one hour. There was no way I could resist.
The picture illustrating this post was taken by one of the hosts, Kyle Cassidy, with his iPhone while the performance was going on. What you can’t see is the windowseat behind the actor, which held a small, stuffed Winnie the Pooh. I kept wondering if Winnie was to be one of the victims.
Joshua Hitchens, the actor, wrote the one-hour adaptation of the novel himself. After the performance, he said he’d first read Dracula at age eight, and though it terrified him, he also became fascinated with it. He’s previously performed the show only a few times: at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library, which houses Stoker’s original notes and sponsors a Dracula festival each year. Hitchens had the chance to actually see and touch the notes when he performed there.
I think the audience was about a dozen people, some of whom I knew, such as local writer Michael Swanwick and his family, and some whom I’ll be happy to see again in the future. We gathered in the living room for snacks and–of course–red wine. Then we settled in the front room and waited. Some of the cats wandered in and out, and we heard mysterious creaks from above (the house is a Victorian, like most in West Philadelphia).
Hitchens wore a simple black costume. His only props were a copy of the novel, a chair, and a spotlight, borrowed from Curio Theatre Company. The spotlight was on the floor, aimed at the ceiling; Hitchens used it throughout in various ways by changing his relative position to cast shadows and, once, by turning it off completely. The coolest part, for me, was how he changed posture and speaking style for each character. I know that’s what actors do, but it’s still nifty to see, particularly when the changes happen in a split second. I was enthralled the entire way through; I enjoyed seeing how Hitchens interpreted each character. For example, Dr. Van Helsing was both avuncular and a little jovial, Dr. Seward was a bit depressed.
I have never read Dracula (I know, I know, shame!), but once I had to critique a spinoff story, so I have read a very detailed summary. Even if I hadn’t read the summary, the play would have been really easy to follow, thanks to the excellent adaptation. Most of what was trimmed, I think, was secondary plot. Quincey’s character was also cut save for one mention (Dr. Seward got his bowie knife at the end).
Aside from the play itself, though, what I loved the most was the intimacy of it. We were right there, only feet from the stage, in a small room that seemed to hold more energy, or different energy, than a giant theater. And, periodically, Milla the cat wandered in, curious about the goings on. She lent another level to the intimacy as she checked out audience legs, considered checking out Hitchens’ legs but thought better of it, jumped onto the prop chair, jumped off again just in time…I was paying attention, truly, but the cat was part of the experience for me.
You can read the hosts’ accounts of the event at Kyle’s LiveJournal and Trillian’s LiveJournal. There are some additional pictures at those posts that Kyle took afterwards. And here’s Michael Swanwick’s post.