Tales about vampires have been told in a variety of ways, through television, novels, film or, in this case, theater. The Central Works Theater Company still brings yet another brilliant mix of strong talents to tell the gothic story of horrors, “Dracula Inquest.”
An ominous ambience creeping through its late-gothic walls creates an eldritch atmosphere at the Berkeley City Club, making it the perfect location to hold Central Works’ latest production. The eerie setting of the dark room and sinister music playing in the background created a perfect backdrop for the actors to immerse themselves into their characters.
Directed by Jan Zvaifler and written by Gary Graves, this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s tale achieves a terror-filled presentation of an intense interrogation of four inmates imprisoned in an asylum over the disappearance of a mysterious Transylvanian nobleman (Dracula). The interviewed inmates each draw detective Avery Sly deeper into their reasoning and blur the lines of absurdity and a ghastly truth.
The play needed no elaborate special effects with the incredible performances given by all of the actors who brought the unnerving and gothic piece to life. Kenny Toll as John Seward and John Flanagan as Inspector Sly open the show with excessively long monologues but maintain violent passion throughout. Frightening screams intensify disturbing scenes and characterize the desperation of the four characters Sly interviews.
The first scene introduces Seward, the former owner and current patient at the asylum for the criminally insane, seeking a way out of his misinterpreted world. Both actors fiercely challenge each other throughout the first scene and plunge into a highly adrenalized dialogue.
The interrogation takes place two years after Stoker’s original “Dracula,” and Seward in a straitjacket attempts to explain the origin of the murder for which he is accused. Inspector Sly refuses to believe his story — or any of the alibis of the four inmates in the asylum. They have all been caught up in the mysterious bloodshed of a seemingly innocent victim. Largely convinced of their insanity but increasingly curious of their harrowing stories, Sly acts as the eyes and ears of the audience in this mystery.
Despite its title, this vampire story is monster-free, but the acting alone suffices in drawing audiences to see this adaptation of an iconic tale. Although the monologues do drag on in the first half of the show, the actors’ performances are magnetizing and create a spookily entertaining two hours. From a possessed Mina Harker (Megan Trout) to the mad professor-turned-vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Joe Estlack), each performance carried out a flawless presentation.
Central Works draws this type of strong talent in actors and writers alike because of its creative team’s history of using a collaborative method in developing a play. The cast and creative team labor together in the process of writing a script and mastering a story strong enough for the stage. The difference between a big theater production and a small one like this lies in the refusal of outside help and the inclusion of everyone on the team. Central Works highly promotes its collective techniques in developing a variety of plays, and in doing so, it makes each show generously affordable.
“Dracula Inquest” brings hair-raising entertainment through the intimidatingly close encounters between the audience and the actors. This makes the performances much more real and invasive, sending chills down your spine at every shout and shriek. A show with exceptional acting and a riveting script, “Dracula Inquest” will engross its every audience.
“Dracula Inquest” runs at the Berkeley City Club until August 17.