Bram Stoker’s Dracula has become one of the most influential novels of all time, and that can be clearly evidenced by any number of adaptations or sequels that hit the book shelves, airwaves or stages. Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker and Abraham Van Helsing are cultural icons — characters that seem real and alive. Well, almost alive.
Thomas R. Gordon, playwright and artistic director of the up-and-coming Onomatopoeia Theatre Company, has decided to put his own spin on the classic tale of blood-sucking fury. Dracula: Bloodlines, which recently opened off-off-Broadway, follows the great-great-grandsons of Harker and Helsing in modern times, and, of course, the prince of darkness is ever-present.
Gordon said the genesis for the play began when he was an undergraduate student at Radford University, studying with his directing mentor Chuck Hayes. “[Hayes] spoke a lot about a production of Dracula that he had worked on during his professional career,” Gordon said recently during a phone interview. “And so having him speak a lot about Dracula and the characters sort of was one of the things that first really got me to fall in love with Dracula and Bram Stoker’s novel and the film, the 1931 film with Bela Lugosi as well.”
After various personal events occurred in Gordon’s life, some of which fit with the characters from Stoker’s novel, Gordon was hooked on bringing Bloodlines to life. “And then after I got a script together and everything, I definitely wanted to get feedback from my actors and from everyone else just so that we could polish it and make sure that it was the best that it could be,” he said.
Bloodlines takes the approach that the events of Stoker’s novel actually happened, as if the fiction writer were a journalist. That first reign of the vampire took place in the 1890s, so Gordon’s story picks up 120 years later, or the present day.
“Morris Harker is the great-great-grandson of Jonathan Harker who is the protagonist from the novel,” said Gordon, who has been working in professional theater since he was 16. “And we also have the great-great-grandson of Van Helsing as well. In the original novel it’s Abraham Van Helsing, and we have his great-great-grandson as Alexander Van Helsing. And so those are some of our bridges to the original piece as well as Dracula obviously.”
The tone of the play is serious rather than humorous. “If you were to ask me to actually give a specific genre, I would define this as a little bit of a sexual thriller,” the playwright said. “We definitely do have some moments with blood and such, but there’s a lot more going on intellectually. … We’re definitely going with a very modern interpretation, a very serious interpretation as well. I was defining for my actors that in our world we are going with a capital-‘G’ God, and there’s definitely a heaven and definitely a hell. And our actors and our vampires and everyone else has to sort of deal with how that works.”
Gordon, who also directs the piece, said casting the play with the right actors was important. Speaking with Hollywood Soapbox at the height of the rehearsal process, he said he was happy with how his company had responded to the piece. “My performers have really, really taken to each of their characters. Some of it, I feel like, I’ve just been a little blessed with the casting. I found some people that really fit — their personalities really fit the characters’ personalities that I have as well. … It’s really been encouraging for me especially as a writer. So that’s something that I’m very happy about. It’s definitely making me think about … going back to writing more stuff sooner rather than later.”
The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company was founded in 2011, and it’s based on Gordon’s master’s degree in educational theater from NYU. The goal of the company is to not only entertain audiences with three productions a year but also to educate them with new works and re-imaginings of classics. One of their first productions was an updated version of Lysistrata that timed perfectly with the Occupy Wall Street movement and financial crisis.
“It went a little viral the way that a lot of the other stuff happens with that Occupy Wall Street stuff. And so that sort of helped me gather around a lot of different people, and it then got me into the position to sort of get the theater company going. And so from there our goals have been to create, you know, fun, entertaining, educational theater that either promotes new works or will look at re-inspecting the classics in some type of way. So we’ve been doing Shakespeare and Chekov.”
Dracula: Bloodlines is right along those lines of taking a new look at an old text. Future plans beyond Dracula include a fall production of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play and possibly expanding the annual schedule to four plays, one for each season of the year.
“I think the biggest challenge, in all honesty, is getting money together,” he said. “Straight up, you need to be able to get enough money to get a space that is not bad and to pay for the performers and getting costumes on them that do no look awful. You want to make sure that you have enough money together that you can put something [on] that is a quality product. From there, the second part I would say is getting the word out to a certain extent. You want to make sure that you get butts into those seats … because it’s really great if you feel that you’ve done something beautiful artistically, but we’re not really just doing this for our friends and family.”
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
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