Res­i­dent Ensem­ble Play­ers present Drac­u­la,’ a new audio series

4 minute read
Writer/director Michael Gotch and Dracula voice actor René Thornton, Jr. rehearse over Zoom. (Image provided by REP.)
Writer/director Michael Gotch and Dracula voice actor René Thornton, Jr. rehearse over Zoom. (Image provided by REP.)

Make yourself a warming drink, turn down the lights, turn on a device, and settle in for chilling weekly fun, as the REP presents an audio adaptation of Dracula.

Listen! What welcome drama!

This great gothic thriller is an epistolary novel: a series of diary entries, logbooks, letters, and telegrams—and it’s a structure that has led writers to consistently and delightedly dip into Dracula. This is a stylish and clever but reverential adaptation written and directed by Michael Gotch, a REP actor with an increasingly busy and substantial career as a playwright.

Gotch is not just a theater craftsman seeking an accessible public-domain property in coronavirus time. He avows that “the novel has been one of my favorites for years,” first reading it in fifth grade, again in high school, and yet again when he wrote his college thesis on Victorian gothic novels and focused on the Stoker classic. Gotch notes that “the story translates across different mediums—books, plays, TV—and there are many interpretations of the title character” that allowed him a free writerly hand.

One of the most engaging aspects of radio plays is that the listener creates the dramatic world. I confess that as I began listening to the first spooky episode of this witty and well-crafted adaptation, my images of the Count and his eerie castle were tinged by the 1978 Broadway production in the gloomy Martin Beck Theatre, where a sexy Frank Langella cavorted in a setting designed by the redoubtable Edward Gorey. Listeners will doubtlessly have their own references, and as this drama unfolded, mine were soon revamped by the actors spinning those gothic webs.

Gotch has successfully captured the novel’s “various and vast settings,” which he compares to Indiana Jones-type globetrotting. The tale’s richly textured mix of “horror story, love story, ghost story, and adventure story” affords more than 30 juicy roles to the seven featured REP actors.

Episode 1, Listen, What Sweet Music, opens as a clearly mad R.M. Renfield (Lee Ernst) has gone over to the dark side. We then meet the self-important Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Stephen Pelinski) as he humbly lays out his many academic degrees and sets up the tale. Solicitor’s clerk Jonathan Harker (Mic Matarrese) is writing a letter to his fiancee, Mina (Elizabeth Heflin), describing the mysterious happenings in Budapest as he travels to the remote Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. He’s been engaged to help Count Dracula (René Thornton) acquire a London property for his nefarious, as yet unknown activities. Later episodes will see heroine Lucy Wenstenra (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and the valiant John Seward (Hassan El-Amin) added to the ever-expanding tale.

Author Bram Stoker was best known in London for his notable 27-year run as manager of the Lyceum Theatre of famous actor-manager Henry Irving. During his management tenure, the busy Stoker was also a literary staffer on The Daily Telegraph and began to write fiction. Dracula was published in 1897, relatively early in his novelistic career. The original 591-page typescript, which had been deemed lost, was found in a northwestern Pennsylvania barn in the early 1980s, and Stoker’s original research for this evergreen novel is held in the collection of Philadelphia’s own Rosenbach Museum and Library.

The drama’s opening setting in the eerie mountains of Transylvania and the subsequent chase of night-stalking Count Dracula across Europe and back to England allows for chilling creative audio, gleefully designed by Eileen Smitheimer. Ryan Touhey composed an appropriately bustling gothic score also woven with existing works (episode 1 opens with both his tingly original music and Debussy), and there is impressive audio engineering by Ryan McGinley and Joel Farley.

As theaters everywhere realize that they won’t be open for much (or all) of the coming season, expect a wealth of drama to stream out into the ether and into your home. To see what the REP is offering, here is a short audio preview of their spooky delight. Burrow into a safe place and spend October evenings with a classic thriller.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Dracula, free serialized five-episode audio drama, written and directed by Michael Gotch, based on the novel by Bram Stoker. REP (Resident Ensemble Players) at University of Delaware. New 50-minute episodes air every Friday through October 30. Episode 1: Listen, What Sweet Music; Episode 2: The Coming Storm; Episode 3: Of Nature and Supernature; Episode 4: Master and Servant; Episode 5: Chasing Nightfall.

Episodes premiere on Friday evenings October 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30 at 7pm on radio WVUD 91.3 FM and on the station’s website. Following the initial broadcast, episodes stream on REP website through November.

Image description: two people, in split screens, with headphones in front of mics, in mid-performance recording audio.

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