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I didn’t catch Synetic Theatre’s original 2005 production of Dracula, so I can’t speak to what’s actually new and/or updated in this “new, updated” remount. What I can say is this: It’s just as smart now as it was then to graft the sinuous and sinewy choreography that is Irina Tsikurishvili’s trademark onto Stoker’s hokey yarn about a lusty Transylvanian bull who gets himself airdropped into a China shop of repressed Victorian sexuality.
Doing so opens up the familiar tale in a way that manages to celebrate its goofily goth notes of camp (all that “I never drink…wine” jazz) even as it underscores just what Stoker was up to. Take the scene in which Natalie Berk’s hot-and-bothered Mina writhes on the floor yearning for ol’ Mad, Vlad, and Dangerous to Know to come calling while four nervous men try to shut her up by shoving their giant Jesus-sticks in her face. Subtext? What subtext?
Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili helmed the original run and also played Drac, but this time out he simply directs, letting Dan Istrate get his fang on instead. Istrate has good, chewy fun here—watch how he seems to float across the stage by thrusting his fists out in front of him, Superman-style, underneath his black-and-red cape. The effect is that of a Satanic cowcatcher, and it’s a hoot.
And then there’s how great the whole thing looks, the bravura, self-evident theatricality lovingly coded into every detail; dollars to doughnuts you’ll not see more ingeniously wrought impalings on a D.C. stage this season. Before the house lights dim, Anastasia Ryurikov Simes’ set—a massive spider squatting over the proscenium, an upstage wall of webbing—seems maybe a little one-jokey, a bit on-the-nose. But she brings such an innovative range of approaches to bear on everything taking place beneath that great underbelly—billowing bolts of fabric, dancing coffin lids—that scenes shift with showy but fluid style. (Only one costuming quibble—the masked demon who possesses the dying Vlad in the prologue could stand to look a little less luchador.)
For those wondering: One of the ’05 production’s most buzzed-about set pieces—the moment the play’s violence goes from heavily stylized to suddenly and surprisingly carnal (with a little help from Karo syrup)—remains intact, and it’s still impressive. And still makes you wonder how much Synetic shells out for dry cleaning.