'Drakul' bites off a bit more than it can drink

John Heimbuch likes to think big. The playwright and co-artistic director of Walking Shadow Theatre Company has merged zombies and Shakespeare, penguins and the military, and has also crafted an original vision of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. For his latest, Drakul, Heimbuch takes Bram Stoker's Victorian horror story and expands it to look at the wreckage the events of the book leave behind for the characters. While the adaptation has its troubles, these intriguing explorations and the strong performances from the cast make it worth your time.

Heimbuch's adaptation takes Stoker's original novel and adds an intriguing conceit: What if the story was true? Part of the action follows the characters six years later, as their worlds are rocked by the publication of their journals and reports as a fiction. Their reputations in danger, the survivors gather to discuss what should be done and also uncover the remaining secrets within the group.

These scenes are interspersed with the retelling of Dracula, which itself jumps in time. We get the climax of the story first, followed by the events that lead up to it, with a diversion midway through to take in the tale of long-missing Jonathan Harker, who is trapped by the Prince in his Transylvania castle.

Heimbuch's explorations offer plenty of meaty topics, especially when centered on the experiences of Mina, a young woman (and Harker's fiancé) who Drakul courts in London, all the while sucking the life away from her best friend, poor doomed Lucy. The conflict and consequences of her "dalliances" troubles the character for years after, as does her continual exclusion from their drive to destroy the vampire.

It helps that the actors in these two roles--Charles Hubbell and Melissa Anne Murphy--give the performances of the evening. Hubbell (who has some experience playing vampires) plays Drakul as an over-the-top merging of romance and menace, courting Mina with tales of his homeland in one scene and drinking the blood of Lucy in the next. Murphy lets Mina's warmth slowly die through the course of the play, replaced by a conflicted heart over her dangerous lover and then, finally, a steel resolve to survive.

The cast is well balanced, but sometime struggle with roles that haven't been fully fleshed out. Considering the show runs a bit over three hours, this is especially frustrating. A lot of time is spent with the characters, but they are often just serving as pieces of the plot rather than rounded human beings.

And while much of the action is engrossing, the show drags during the second act in places where it should be racing to its conclusion, both in action (the hunt for the vampire) and emotion (the battle, past and present, for Mina's soul). It doesn't help that the play is made up of numerous short scenes. The resulting stage shifting is a continuous distraction that holds up the pace.

Drakul runs through February 26 at the Red Eye Theatre.

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