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'Dracula' at Tacoma Little Theatre

'Fear hemorrhages deliciously within you.'

From left and back to front: Jacob Tice, Christopher Rocco, Joseph Grant and Brynn Garrett. Photo courtesy of Dennis K Photography

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Tacoma Little Theatre's rendition of Dracula is creepy, funny, horrifying, and hauntingly beautiful. A highly stylized presentation as directed by Pug Bujeaud with outstanding sets (Blake R. York), lighting (Niclas R. Olson) and costumes (Michele Graves); this production is the epitome of theatricality.

Often throughout there are overlapping and widely spaced scenes and foreboding figures moving behind a scrim, all of which lends to the production the dreamlike feel of a moving balletic tableaux.

York's set design features columns and a riser painted to emulate stone with two large and equally stone-like boxes that double as beds and coffins, all dramatically highlighted by floods of blood red and cold blue light and a profusion of smoke. Cast members rather than stage hands move props and set pieces. The way this is done, rather than being a distraction, set changes become integral to the action.

Director Bujeaud wrote in a program note, "(Dracula) is often portrayed as a creature of romance and loss. While I have enjoyed many of the forays into that version of Dracula ... this is not that. This script by Steven Dietz neither embraces that romantic tint, nor does it delve into camp that productions are often laced with. What we have here is a story that relies heavily on Bram Stoker's original text."

While it is true that this version is not romantic, and thankfully not camp - there's been quite enough of that - it is highly eroticized.

Early on there is a sexy romp in bed between the leading female characters, Mina (Jesse Morrow) and Lucy (Brynn Garrett), both of whom behave in a sexualized manner with each other and with Dracula (Michael Christopher). Also highly erotic are the slivering and cavorting of the unnamed and silent Vixens (Ariel Birks and Kadi Burt).

The cast is great. Jacob Tice displays a range of acting skills as Harker, Mina's hapless lover and repeated victim of horror. Christopher Rocco, new to Tacoma stages but a favorite in Olympia, primarily in Theater Artists Olympia productions, is convincingly humane and human as Seward the doctor who is in love with Lucy; and veteran actor Joseph Grant is believably obsessive as Professor Van Helsing.

Other than dramatic poses in caped majesty and the viciousness of his attacks, Christopher plays Count Dracula with subtle undertones, resisting the natural tendency to camp it up.

And then there is the madman, Renfield, played by Brian Wayne Jansen. Oh my God, Jansen is a force of nature. He plays the mad, immortal, Renfield like a combination of Hannibal Lecter and King Lear. He is funny, frightening and full of surprises, lurking in his little asylum cell off to the side of the stage and then bursting onto the main stage in explosions of insanity. If he were doing this on Broadway, he would be a surefire Tony winner.

This show is not for children, and it is not for the squeamish. It is sophisticated, intelligent (and a little bit funny) adult fare.

Dracula, 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 6, $20-$24, pay what you can Nov. 3, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N "I" St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

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