The Coterie’s production of “Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker” is so well-crafted, so thoughtful in its design and execution, that it stands as one of the most artistically successful shows I’ve seen at the young-audiences theater.
Literate, unpredictable, cleverly conceived by the design team as a sort of steampunk reverie and graced by an exceptionally athletic performance from Zachary Andrews, this effort from director Jeff Church earns nothing but gold stars.
Except for one thing: It’s not scary.
One could reasonably ask if it’s possible to be frightened by any version of “Dracula” at this late date. But if you’re going to undertake a retelling of the 1897 Bram Stoker epistolary vampire novel that has been adapted for the stage numerous times and has become dozens of films, why not try to find a way to amp up the horror?
The production, aimed at a somewhat older audience than the Coterie’s norm, never really achieves that, and I’m not sure it was even a goal. But the visually striking show partially compensates for the absence of fear with attention to macabre details, vivid imagery and Andrews’ remarkable success in bringing Stoker’s prose to life.
Playwright Jim Helsinger adapts the novel as a one-actor show, allowing Andrews to inhabit all the major characters, including Count Dracula, the young English solicitor Jonathan Harker, the incongruously placed Texan Quincy Morris and Mina Harker, Jonathan’s wife, one of Dracula’s victims whose telepathic connection to the monster aids in his destruction.
Andrews impresses with his versatility but also his endurance as he climbs all over a non-realistic set that looks sort of like a gothic jungle gym. He swings from overhead bars and balances himself with suspended still rings. This is more than a performance. It’s an intense workout.
Scenic designer Jordan Janota and lighting designer Art Kent work in concert to create a vivid, tactile, surrealistic dream world for the play. Georgianna Londre Buchanan, the costume designer, goes for stark, simple black, outfitting Andrews in what might be called a Victorian muscle shirt.
Other important contributions are made by sound designer Dan Warneke and prop designer Ron Megee. All the design elements combined create a 19th-century vision of raw wood, steel and brass.
So, give the Coterie its due for assembling a visually handsome show for the Halloween season. But if you’re looking for the sublime panic and scream-inducing jolts of the Edge of Hell, you may as well head to the West Bottoms.