The Actors Theater of Louisville’s “Dracula” tradition returns this month with in-person performances, but audiences can expect a different kind of spectacle this year.
The full title is key: “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy.” It opens Friday and runs through September 18 at the Bingham Theater in downtown Louisville.
The adaptation is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s acclaimed novel, which was spun by the actor and playwright Kate Hamillwho has a history of “making highly theatrical, feminist, female-centered adaptations of classics”.
Hamill said she was interested in “Dracula” because a number of previous adaptations she’s come across, whether in film, on stage, or in a book, are “very focused on the male gaze.”
“Vampires are predators, and they’re predators that are often seen as sexy, interesting, and captivating,” Hamill said. “And I thought, ‘Okay, well, who are the predators in our society, who are often treated as the protagonist or someone who is captivating or compelling or powerful, and for me, that became a meditation on toxic masculinity.”
The Louisville production, directed by Jennifer Pennington, is the show’s regional premiere – Hamill’s “Dracula” had only another performance, at the Classic Stage Company in New York City shortly before the start of pandemic-related shutdowns.
The presentation of “Dracula” by the Actors Theater has evolved over the years to keep today’s audience connected to the work. Executive Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming said Hamill’s adaptation is part of that evolution.
“Intersecting conflict and polarization as opportunities for healing and addressing our country’s gender, cultural and class wars undeniably pierces our consciousness,” he wrote, in part, in a email to WFPL News. “From #MeToo to the BLM movements so vividly seen, felt and heard, I couldn’t imagine a better balm for the soul than a blended flex hold that allows us to explore these themes fearlessly and joyfully through warm laughter, thrills that give us chills and a lot of heart.
Hamill reimagined the work’s most iconic characters, including Rensfield, who in this adaptation is played by a woman, “which has a lot to do with how we deal with, quote without quotes, ‘madness. “or the behavior permitted in women through the ages.”
This Dracula doesn’t have pale skin, nor is he allergic to the sun or walking around with menacing fangs in his mouth. He is charming, “much more than an ordinary guy”.
“Many predators and aggressors are totally charming in their normal lives,” Hamill said. “So I’m interested in a Dracula that’s a bit more like that.”
Hamill wrote that the play’s female protagonists had more agency, such as Mina, who is recently married and pregnant.
“We tend to infantilize pregnant women and say to ourselves, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that,'” Hamill said. “And Mina is someone who needs to take matters into her own hands and thrive more, with the kind of mentorship Dr. Van Helsing has, because that’s part and parcel of her survival.”
She also highlighted societal issues related to power, who holds power and how it can be weaponized.
“Very few of us are truly afraid of a bat sucking our blood in the middle of the night, but we are afraid of people, or should be afraid of people, who drain us of our power and strength. vital and consume us,” says Hamill.
But it’s not all horror. Hamill used the humor in the play to drive home the point – it’s a revenge fantasy after all.
“You can explore some really deep, dark questions, and have a ton of fun along the way,” she said.
Disclosure: Actors Theater of Louisville is a financial supporter of Louisville Public Media.