Opening Nights

DRACULA: JONATHAN HARKER'S JOURNAL Center House Theatre; ends Sun., Nov. 16 You've met Bram Stoker's bloodsucker so many times, you might think you'd be over him by now. You won't be: Director David Quicksall's adaptation for Book-It scores because it refuses to let familiarity breed contempt. Quicksall isn't much of an innovator; he doesn't bring anything to the tale like, say, the deliriously kinky aesthetic Francis Ford Coppola dreamt up for his film version. But he plays enough against the expected to provide completely engaging entertainment. Sure, all the usual stuff is here, and it's a lot of fun. The Count still loves that "sweet music" his howling wolves make. The superstitious villagers continue to cower in fear (some with hearty Transylvanian accents that speak of "zee awfternoon sun falling fool upon zem"). Yet no one's ribbing you: Jerry Lloyd's Countwhose terrific makeup gives him a death-white pallor delivers the rapturous "children of the night" line remarkably ham-free. Marty Mukhalian has a genuine moment as a wide-eyed woman who is more afraid for solicitor Jonathan Harker (Jonah Von Spreecken) than he is for himself before his fateful interview with a vampire. (His diary comprises the first few chapters of Stoker's novel and the entirety of this production.) This is Dracula without a heaping dose of postmodern irony. Lloyd and Von Spreecken are ideally cast and kept from ridiculously grim severity, though there are passages when Quicksall's attention wanders with both of them. Von Spreecken needs an ounce more gravitas in the first act, more concrete indications of Harker's moments of prescient dread. Meanwhile, Lloyd's playfulness is sometimes in danger of turning the Count into some eccentric curmudgeon from the Old Country. Regardless, both actors are doing some of their best work. Von Spreecken, who has to carry most of the evening, has become a welcome stage presence over the last year or so. The affable misfit persona he's developedhe was most recently the ne'er-do-well son in Book-It's Breathing Lessonsis just what the show needs to keep us rooting for the essentially prissy Harker. Lloyd's performance feels notably fresh: During an angry monologue in which Dracula proudly details his family history, he manages to show us a glimpse of the Count as a dangerously bitter, faded aristocrat. It's that kind of touch that keeps his work here interesting, even though he isn't always physically imposing. His lizardlike night crawl is worth a happy shudder, however, and so is Quicksall's luscious work with Dracula's trio of vixens. Their hungry seduction of Harker is itself worth a visit to the castle. STEVE WIECKING D9 DANCE COLLECTIVE Velocity MainSpace Theater; ends Sun., Nov. 2 It's family night at d9 Dance Collective as David Dorfman's new work, "Impending Joy, Chapter 1" joins his wife Lisa Race's "Tether" in the repertory. Aside from the familial connection, though, the two works explore disparate territory. The cast of "Tether" is even more adept at working on the hanging ropes of the set than they were when the dance premiered here last year, but even so, it is still a work about physical challenge and daring rather than suave accomplishment. It's thrilling to see the combination of mass and momentum translate into big, pendular arcs as the dancers leap onto the ropes and swing through the space. Sometimes aerial work makes a performer look weightless, as if her home is above the ground, though here it's work, not levitation, that lets the dancers fly. And after they've hauled themselves up, they finish in the air, caught up in the rigging like so much flotsam. Dorfman often works with athletically big movement, but in "Impending Joy" he's chosen to partially immobilize his dancers, tying fence pickets to their arms like splints so that they can only move at the shoulder joints. The awkward and jerky movement this creates makes the dancers look like faulty wind-up toys as they shudder across the stage. One of them keeps speaking about what might have been an accident"I know it's scary . . . we're pulling for you"as we watch them struggle. The splints affect their relationships as much as their movement. They can hit or slash, but they can't embrace. Gradually, though, they work themselves free of the sticks and their gestures begin to soften and round. At the end, as they repeat a litany of comments and predictions connecting their outside lives with their dancing ones ("Some of us will do nothing but dance for money. . . . All of us will be jealous of some of us"), they've lost their artificial handicaps. Whatever their differences, "Joy" and "Tether" each deal with physical challenge, and in both dances d9 rises to that challenge with skill and enthusiasm. SANDRA KURTZ

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