Friday night, a group of black-clad theatre patrons huddled in the foyer of a vintage Corktown storefront awaiting a summons to dine with Dracula.
Those of you familiar with the work of Kathe Koja and patrons of the immersive performance troupe “nerve” and Loudermilk Productions LLC, appreciate the fact that none go in until all go in. And in this case, huddling en masse brought a comfort that had less to do with the cold and more to do with the safety-in-numbers factor. After all, the warning on the show poster is clear: “Appetites Must Be Fed.”
As we learned in an earlier interview with Koja, every word of this script comes from Bram Stoker himself. But by paring away some of the Victorian biases and conventions, and assuming a perspective that ignores the characters of Van Helsing and Mina, we are presented with something eerily compelling. It’s like x-raying the statue of Venus de Milo and discovering that it contains a fully formed figure of the satyr Pan within. They coexist. One does not diminish the other. But the effect is delightfully disconcerting.
Of course, the point of participating in an immersive theatre experience is to interact with the characters, the set, the mood, the sounds… and discover the story on a highly personal level. That renders a traditional theatre review counter-productive. Rather, let us try to whet your appetite.
The 60-minute “Dracula” experience is performed by a gender-neutral cast and begins with the prologue, or appetizers, being served up in the building’s shop windows. Guests are invited to watch either from the sidewalk or from the shelter of the foyer. We are introduced to the seductive Lucy Westenra (Steve Xander Carson), who fully embraces the notion that hunger is the best sauce. And we observe the insatiable madness of Renfield (Rachael Ahn Harbert), Dracula’s creature.
We are led inside by “The Brides” (Miles Bond, Emily Fishman and Molly Schneider) who direct us downstairs to a candlelit room where the others are waiting. We can make out things in the corners and along the ledge we’d rather not examine too closely. The players swirl around us, and we eventually meet the somewhat nervous Johnathan Harker (Chris Jakob) and his would-be client, Count Dracula (Marisa Dluge). The elegant, enigmatic Dluge conveys the sinister strength of Dracula in small, precise moments that punctuate her general sense of ennui. Jakob’s Harker starts out as a cool, confident, Victorian gentleman who then seems to melt, before our eyes, into something a bit stickier.
Things happen. Glimpses of past lives are revealed. Questions float between the words unsaid. Does desire outlive death? Is immortality a gift or a curse? Ultimately, Harker understands what he’s dealing with. And he must choose.
“Dracula,” as adapted by Kathe Koja and the nerve ensemble, is an intimate experience limited to 20 people. The production design and creation are credited to The Divine Iguana, Kathe Koja and the nerve ensemble.
It’s already sold-out for this weekend, and the remaining performances are nearly full: January 29-30 and February 5-6, 2016 at 9 p.m. All performances take place in Detroit’s Corktown at 2572 Michigan Avenue. Tickets are available only on a pre-order basis through the nerve website. If you thirst for a new theatre experience, don’t delay; “Dracula” will not be denied.