‘Dracula’ recaptures its essence in Centenary Stage Company production

Dracula review

Marc LeVasseur, top, stars as Count Dracula with, from left, Christopher Young, Emaline Williams, Gary Littman, Nick Bettens and Carl Wallnau, in “Dracula” at the Sitnik Theatre.

For those who like their horror without kitsch — and there seems to be fewer and fewer people like that, each Halloween season — the Centenary Stage Company is offering an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” that does without the modernizing touches we’ve come to expect. It is being presented at the Sitnik Theatre in Hackettstown through Oct. 28.

“My intent in writing this adaptation was to translate Stoker’s extraordinary novel to the stage in a manner that was as faithful as possible to the plot structure, characters, thematic concerns, tone and sensibility of the original,” writes adapter and director Charles Morey, in the play’s program.

And so, this “Dracula” offers — in addition to the expected Gothic atmosphere (via an impressively grand and gloomy set by Tim Golebiewski) and the equally expected erotic tension, plus a chilling performance by Marc LeVasseur as the undead Count — an allegory about good and evil, and the power of faith. In other words, it succeeds on several different levels, and different people will surely get different things out of it.

In a way, you could think of it as a 19th century version of “The Avengers,” with a group of heroes, led by the stalwart professor Abraham Van Helsing (Carl Wallnau), finding each other and pooling their strengths to vanquish the threat of a daunting supervillain. Following the novel’s lead, it has a complex story and a large cast of characters: Sixteen actors are called on to portray the novel’s characters, both major and, in some cases, minor.

From left, Carl Wallnau, Emaline Williams, Nicholas Wilder and Christopher John Young in “Dracula.”

It also has some well executed special effects — with bats, for instance, flying in the moonlight, foreshadowing the dread to come — and some well thought out minor touches, such as peasants unsettling Jonathan Harker (Christopher J. Young) by oddly murmuring in a language unknown to him when he arrives in Transylvania to meet the Count for the first time.

Standouts among the cast members, in addition to LeVasseur (appropriately otherworldly and creepily seductive as Dracula) and Wallnau (ferociously focused as Van Helsing), include Gary Littman as R.M. Renfield, Dracula’s quirkily insane acolyte; and Emaline Williams as Mina Harker, the most assertive of the play’s female characters.

I thought the final confrontation with Dracula felt a bit perfunctory, after all the complex plotting that led up to it. But this “Dracula” is still a deep, rewarding experience and a perfectly timed pre-Halloween entertainment offering.

“Dracula” will be presented at the Sitnik Theatre at the Lackland Performing Arts Center in Hackettstown through Oct. 28; visit centenarystageco.org.

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