It’s an eerily quiet night in the backwaters of rural Texas when a terrible shriek of laughter pierces the darkness. Through the trees, a young vampire (Kelly Yacono) emerges through the shadows, running and screeching. Behind her stalks the formidable Van Helsing (Erin Elizabeth Orr) shrouded in a sweeping black coat, wide brim hat and thick black boots. In a booming voice, he demands that the vampire renounce her sins and be released to heaven through the salvation of his wooden stake. She protests her exorcism, but as Van Helsing closes in, she realizes her fate is sealed. With a scream of religious fury, Van Helsing plunges the stake into the vampire’s heart and the theater goes black.
This was the opening scene of All Girl Dracula, an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s original novel performed by the talented actresses of the Chicago Mammals. Since 2010, the Mammals have been dedicated to creating, directing and delivering “extreme and unique opportunities for actresses to play roles that are rarely, if ever, performed by women,” according to their website. In the past, the Mammals have put on productions such as All Girl Moby Dick (2012), All Girl Frankenstein (2013) and All Girl Edgar Allan Poe (2014) at Zoo Studios, their Ravenswood theater. In each play, the actresses adopted both male and female roles in an effort to play with gender norms and dismantle stereotypes about women and female sexuality. Although the stage and cast were small, All Girl Dracula brought all the classic elements of vampire mythology to the stage in an incredibly creative and detailed rendition of Stoker’s original story.
On the eve of her wedding, the young and adventurous Mina Murray (Whitney LaMora) finds herself hopelessly trapped between two ancient evils: the unearthly horror of Dracula (Sarah Koerner) and the religious fanaticism of the doctor-turned-evangelist Van Helsing. She must face the dark and terrible worlds of both monsters in a desperate attempt to save her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Amy E. Harmon), her best friend Lucy Westenra (Sasha Warren) and Lucy’s beloved Dr. Jack Seward (Anne Wilson) from vampirism — a fate truly worse than death.
LaMora delivered a tender yet powerful performance as the gentle Mina. Harmon’s painful descent into psychosis and Wilson’s heart-wrenching moral struggle carried the play into dark and devastating places of the human psyche. At the center of the action was Koerner’s devastatingly beautiful Dracula, whose spine-tingling cackle, disarming allure and captivating stage presence entranced the audience throughout the play. Orr’s Van Helsing had a gruff and rumbling voice that created a bone-rattling, Bible-thumping, larger-than-life depiction of the divinely chosen vampire slayer.
Gorgeous costumes designed by wardrobe supervisor Rachel Boylan gave the production a Victorian aesthetic that brought the characters to life through sumptuous colors and movements. Using backlit screens, scenery projections, haunting sound effects and soft-colored lighting, sound engineer Stephen Gawrit and lighting designer Leigh Barrett magically transported the audience from the theater’s small venue to haunted graveyards, ancient castles and subterranean asylums that were wholly convincing. Through the collaboration of the cast and crew, All Girl Dracula created something truly impressive and unique. Having attended All Girl Edgar Allan Poe last year and All Girl Dracula this year, I sincerely look forward next year’s production. For fans of classical horror and Victorian romance All Girl Dracula is a must-see.
All Girl Dracula runs through Saturday, Nov. 21 at Zoo Studios (4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite B3). All performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $25 at allgirldracula.brownpapertickets.com. Discounted tickets are also available at the Chicago Mammals website, chicagomammals.com.