‘Dracula’ is a character we all know well. Vampires have become hip and super cool, but this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, by Jayce Johnson, has brought a heightened sexuality and beauty to the timeless tale. Producer Ronnie Marmo proudly brought the show to Los Angeles, after a highly successful 2014 run in New York City. Delving into the depths of women’s suffrage and the violent culture that oppressed them, the Los Angeles production is directed again by Sophia Watt, for the LA Premiere of this adaption. ‘Dracula’ opened on September 25th, 2015 at Theatre 68 at the NoHo Arts Center and will run through November.
Sitting in the intimate theater, the audience will get to feel a bit of the madness of an asylum before the play even begins. This adaption of ‘Dracula’ is still based in the 19th Century and is a drama that struggles with madness, sexuality and power. “Renfield fights for her sexual freedom, Lucy struggles against her mother’s expectations and her own growing hysteria, and Mina Murray is left standing alone in the wreckage, facing the man offering her both liberation and death”. LA Zombie Examiner got a chance to go to a dress rehearsal. Realizing that there were still a few nights left before opening to get out kinks like correctly splattered blood and fight scenes, I was impressed with the depth of the acting I saw and the possibility of what was to come. As advertised it is “bloody, sexy and horror-filled” and I believe this is a play audiences in LA need to go see this Halloween season.
After watching the rehearsal I got to ask a few questions of producer Ronnie Marmo and director Sophia Watt, to get a little insight into the darkness that is ‘Dracula’. My first question was why they chose this adaption over any others done before. Sophia answered “Jacye Johnson is a good friend of mine from college and both of us love Gothic fiction. So we had been working together on this adaptation for the last two years, doing readings and workshops. Getting to stage it out here in LA with Theatre 68 has been a real treat for us,” she said. Ronnie added to this, “When the script came to me I loved how it honored many of the traditional story lines of ‘Dracula’ and how Jayce changed some characters for more of a female eccentric plot…including making Renfield a woman.” Sophia continued the thought, “Jayce was very interested in the representation of women and sexuality in the original novel and changing Renfield’s gender seemed like a natural way to explore that further. Both of us were also inspired by the Yellow Wall paper which was published only a few years before Dracula and centers around Victorian female repression and madness. As a female director I am also always interested in giving more actresses opportunities to play substantial complex roles.”
‘Dracula’ and vampires have become very popular in our culture. Why is a story so old, such a favorite? “The sexual repression of the Victorian era created a sexualized vampire tale that we have never escaped from. ‘Dracula’ and vampires represent a complete and utter freedom from guilt, strict sexual norms and even death. I think audiences and readers still find this freedom refreshing.” Sophia said.
I questioned both about how they cast the play and why they picked the actors that they did. Sophia started. “Each actor we cast brought in some fundamental understanding or essence of their character in the audition. Also an ability to do a stylized play like this was important.” Ronnie added, “Most of the actors in the cast are members of Theatre 68. Sophia and I spent a lot of time discussing actors and auditioning actors within the company and we just felt like these were the right people to move forward with. I feel like the people we’ve chosen really get the genre and really understand this type of material. I’m very pleased with our cast.” When asked about their favorite part of the play was it was easier for Sophia to answer. “Without giving too much away I would say I love how spectacular Lucy’s death is. And I also enjoy watching how the Succubi use their bodies to create so many beautiful moments,” she said. Ronnie wasn’t so sure. “My favorite part of the play changes every time I watch it. And that is the truth. So at this moment I would have to say when Lucy is in the tomb and everything that follows that. But again if you ask me tomorrow I’ll probably change my answer,” he said.
Since I only got to see it in a dress rehearsal, I wondered what would be different for upcoming audiences. Sophia teased. “I think the stakes, excuse the pun, will only get higher, and everyone will only get more comfortable with the blood and fight scenes.” Ronnie also shared, “The repetition of running the show specifically with an audience now will take things to a new level and people (the actors) will continue to find the magic in their own personal performances.”
I wanted to know more about Ronnie and Sophia, so I asked them to tell me a little bit about how they got to this point in their careers. “I started out as an actor in NYC and while auditioning and waiting for work I and a group of friends founded a small theater company called Royalty Free Theater. After Directing a Shakespeare show with RFT, I started to transition more and more to directing. This summer I became a member of the Lincoln Center Lab.” Sophia said. From Ronnie: “I started the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company aka Theatre 68 nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles, and opened the sister chapter in New York four years ago. I’ve produced over 75 productions on both coasts.” he said, “I just love the idea of helping other actors get opportunities. I love being a part of that. I also love to watch actors grow both as members of the theatre company on a weekly basis and in all the productions as well. On a personal note I also make my living as an actor and director. I’ve been very blessed over the last 16 years.”
Since as the LA Zombie Examiner, I love the horror genre and I had to wonder if they shared that love. Sophia: “I am actually a big baby when it comes to horror films. If I see something truly scary I am sleeping with the lights on. I will say I love Gothic literature. And in regards to vampire films I enjoy the Coppola version and I love the Nosferatu film.” Ronnie: “I have to admit I’m not specifically into the horror genre. Although I love it. I fell in love with the genre about 10 years ago when we did an annual haunted house at our old theater for 8 straight years. It was wonderful. And during all of that I fell in love with this genre and I have grown to appreciate it and I see how everyone else does as well. People love this time of year and this genre.”
I had to ask a couple of questions about their feelings on big-screen movies vs. live theater. 1) Do you have any advice for actors on the stage and what makes it different than acting in movies? 2) Even though we are used to big hi-tech effects on TV and in movies, why do you think the theater is as popular as ever? “I have only ever directed for theater so I feel not really qualified to answer this. But if I had to, I think the biggest difference for actors is that theater is live. There is no stopping once the play has started,” Sophia said. “For me theater is a totally different experience. There is something very special about the actors and audience being in the same room influencing each off of each other. Each time you see a play it is a completely unique experience.” Ronnie had a similar answer, “Its not possible for me to answer this question in a few sentences ha ha. It’s a very different medium. But at the end of the day I think whether you’re on film, television or theater you have to seek the truth in your work. It’s vital to good storytelling. I think people love the immediate gratification of being in the room with the actors, there’s a special bond between the actors and the audience and I think there’s an invisible thread that connects them.” he said. “I think an audience loves the idea of seeing tonight’s performance, because tomorrow will not be the same. No two performances are ever exactly duplicated on stage. It’s almost like an audience is in on something this particular night at this particular show. Make sense?”
To conclude I asked if they had anything else to share. Ronnie said. “I would just like to say thank you for all those who are willing to support us and live theater in Los Angeles in general. It’s very difficult to continue to do what we do and we need your energy and your support to continue making live theater in LA. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts if you come out and support our show. We do not take that lightly and we appreciate it.”
So as a review I give “Dracula” at the NoHo Arts Center in LA a thumbs up and hope you all get to come out and enjoy it as much as I did.
The Los Angeles Premiere of an adaption of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ will be playing:
Sept 25th, 2015 through November 1st, 2015 (with the possibility of two more weeks in November)
The NoHo Arts Center
11136 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA. 91601
For Tickets online: http//www.plays411.com/dracula
For additional information: www.Theatre68.com