Everyone thinks they know Dracula. “He’s the funny-voiced vampire dude, right?” There’s a lot more to his story than that, but unless you were one of the few people who made it through 1992’s bad Keanu Reeves movie “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” you probably don’t know it.
There’s never been a better chance to experience it all than right now. Mile Square Theatre’s Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker is a can’t-miss masterpiece of storytelling that will keep your blood pumping from start to finish. Make your way to the theatre before Halloween and let it grab you by the throat and gleefully drag you through the phantasmic events of a century ago.
This one-man tour-de-force was written by Jim Helsinger, based upon Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Sent to deliver deeds to the infamous Count Dracula at his castle, Jonathan Harker (Keller) finds himself a captive of the cryptic Count (also Keller). His mind reels and his prim British resolve fades as he discovers horrors hidden inside the castle’s walls. Once he escapes, he confirms that Count Dracula is, indeed, an undead creature of the night. With the help of fellow believers back in London (Keller, Keller, Keller, and Keller), Harker sets off to destroy the Count before he becomes too powerful. They risk their lives and sanity to save themselves and the ones they love.
Our experience begins the moment we ascend to the theatre’s second floor, where we are transported into a world both familiar and horrifying. Hoboken’s own Roxanne Hoffman has expertly curated art along the theatre’s entrance that awakens dormant memories of vampire lore and mystical Transylvania.
Entering the theatre itself, the wonderfully exquisite set immediately throws us into the time of Dracula. Designed with subtle precision by Matthew Fick, the furniture, props and hidden details of the stage place us in a Romanian castle, a London sanatorium and other places in between. It’s yet another design success for Mile Square Theatre, reminding us that transformative stagecraft is not restricted to the $125 tickets across the Hudson.
While the set and venue are irresistible, the real star of the show is Mile Square favorite, Jonathan Keller. Over and over again, in ways both organic and unexpected, Director Melissa Firlit puts Keller in a position to shine. And shine he does. He uses every ounce of his energy and every inch of the theatre – from the stage to the seats, from the light rigging to the walls backstage and the venue’s hallways – to carry us into a world of immortals and those who defy them.
With everyman charm, sly humor and a devilish grin, Keller seamlessly transitions between each of the story’s characters, in shape, tone, and temperament. We never see the actor, we simply feel his story. His creations are supernatural, yet grounded; fantastic, yet real. Harker, Dracula, Van Helsing and others all effortlessly appear in Harker’s world to share their part of his tale. Keller’s choices in the portrayal of the Count himself are particularly inspired.
The challenge of producing Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker must be in telling a story through the writings of one of its characters. Theatre and communications training 101 teaches that we should show, not tell. And yet in the hands of Firlit and Keller, telling is showing, and the showing is revelatory.
The only horror in the 1992 movie was the acting. In Mile Square Theatre’s Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker, however, the inspired performance brings the psychological and mystical horrors of the undead Count Dracula to life.
Go see it!
Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker runs Oct. 13 through Oct. 30, Thursday through Saturdays @ 8 p.m., and Sundays @ 3 p.m. School audience performances are on 10/19, 10/20, 10/26, and 10/27. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Tickets: $30, $18 for students/seniors. See milesquaretheatre.org. Recommended for audiences 12 and up.
Jeff Kreisler is a Hoboken resident, comedian, and fan of Mile Square Theater.