Chatham Drama Guild Bites Into New ‘Dracula’ Adaptation

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Local Theater

Rachel Walman and Devin Massarsky as Lucy Westenra and Arthur Holmwood.

     Halloween season is just around the corner, and fans of the more shadowy reaches of the theater spectrum are in for a treat as The Chatham Drama Guild welcomes none other than “Dracula” to the stage from Sept. 22 to Oct. 16.
     We’ve all heard of Dracula, of course. The immortal vampire from the Carpathian Mountains has been a part of our cultural consciousness since Bram Stoker’s novel — which has never been out of print — was published 125 years ago. But if you think you know what to expect from this world premiere of a brand new adaptation by Bragan Thomas, you are mistaken. This is a Dracula you’ve never encountered before.
     Thomas first became entranced by the story of Dracula 30 years ago when, at the age of nine, he happened to see the 1979 color film “Nosferatu” by director Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski, a remake of the original 1922 silent black and white film “Nosferatu” by director F.W. Murnau which starred Max Shreck. Anyone who has seen either of these films will not be surprised that the pale, long-fingered figure emerging from the darkness on screen would make a strong impression on an imaginative young child.
     “I was blown away,” Thomas recalled. “I immediately read the novel ‘Dracula,’ which I borrowed from the library, and I remember saying to myself, ‘I am going to play this part someday.’ Now it is actually happening.”
     Inspired, the young Thomas proceeded to immerse himself in the subject of Dracula. Today Thomas describes himself as an expert in the mythology of Dracula with a passion for Gothic literature. He has seen everything and read everything that exists on the subject of Bram Stoker’s Count, and he noticed that in every film adaptation of the novel, the same mistakes are made. In the interest of avoiding spoilers for “Dracula” audiences at the Chatham Drama Guild, we won’t come right out and say what the mistakes are. Let’s say that when Thomas explained them, it was obvious that one needs to see his “Dracula” to find out how he approached this classic tale of the predatory Count, his victims, and those who would defeat him.
     “I wanted to keep the brilliance of Stoker’s original without making the mistakes that every other adaptation has made,” Thomas said. “In my life as a writer, I have learned that when creating an adaptation one must have humility. One should not assume one knows better than the author of the original work. I am not better than Bram Stoker when it comes to this story. I want to conceal my writing style and raise my adaptation of his story to the level of literature.”
     Thomas takes his work very seriously, and he doesn’t believe in rushing something as important as an adaptation of a work which has inspired him for 30 years. In fact, the adaptation of “Dracula” which will be performed at the Drama Guild took Thomas eight years to complete.
     “I am a classicist. I am obsessed with the works of Shakespeare,” Thomas explained. “I slowly and carefully built the story using contrapuntal dialogue, which proved to be very difficult. The final 12 pages took a year to write, in part because I studied the final sequence of ‘Hamlet’ for months. It inspired the way I crafted the last scene. I also invented a dinner scene between Dracula and Jonathan Harker which I based on a short story by Stoker titled ‘Dracula’s Guest,’ which is really a play within the play. That scene took a year and a half to write. It was a more ambitious project than I thought it would be.”
     Thomas said he feels it is a tremendous honor to have his adaptation of “Dracula” move from the page to the stage. He is grateful to Pam Banas, and also to director Anna Maria Johansen for the way she has brought the adaptation to life.
I first met Bragan Thomas at a Shakespeare workshop in Provincetown, and I was quite impressed,” Johansen said. “His ‘Dracula’ was brought to my attention. I arranged a reading of the same at my house. Again, I was impressed, and this time by his writing. The Guild sets its season in the winter. I brought this play to the attention of the play reading committee. They agreed we should mount it.”
     “Dracula” will be the fourth play Johansen has directed for the Chatham Drama Guild. She said she has learned that it takes the entire CDG family to produce a play.
     “The play calls for scenes that contain violence — fighting and psychological,” Johansen said. “I choreograph these scenes very carefully, first making sure that actors know what is to happen. We walk through the movements at half speed, then building to full when all concerned feel secure in their footing and theatrical intention. Several of the actors have worked with intimacy coordinators and are aware of the need to get permission from a partner in a scene where there is any personal contact. Because several scenes involve this kind of contact, I've spoken with Vana Trudeau at Cape Cod Community College to step in as consultant for this. I must admit that our leading lady, Emily Entwisle, secured Ms. Trudeau's assistance. All cast members get along like family; the candy I bring to rehearsals does add a bit of ‘sweetness’ to rehearsals.”
     Johansen made it clear that this adaptation of “Dracula” is an entirely different approach from the ones we’ve become familiar with on the big screen.
     Bragan Thomas's Dracula is not the Dracula of Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney or even Frank Langela,” Johansen said. “This Dracula is dark; many seek to vanquish Dracula; several fall prey to his ‘wants.’ However, this Dracula does not end the way one expects. I'm not saying more; there must be a reason to attend a performance.”
     “Dracula” features, in order of appearance, Rachel Walman as Lucy Westenra, Mark Roderick as Dr. Jack Seward, Emily Entwistle as Mina Murray, Devin Massarsky as Arthur Holmwood (aka Lord Godalming), John Hanright as Jonathan Harker, Amanda Gordon as Lady Mary Westenra, Bob Shire as Renfield, and Bragan Thomas as Count Dracula. Due to scheduling conflicts late in the run, Pam Banas will be doing a few performances as Lady Mary, and Susanna Creel will also be doing a few shows as Mina. The director is Anna Marie Johansen, executive producer is Pam Banas, Scott Hamilton and Anna Marie Johansen designed the lighting, Anna Marie Johansen and Don Howell designed the sound, Rachel Banas will provide technical support, Anna Marie Johansen and Bragan Thomas designed the costumes, and set design and construction are by Anna Marie Johansen, Scott Hamilton and Mark Roderick.




At the Chatham Drama Guild

Sept. 22 to Oct. 16, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m.

Information and reservations: 508-945-0510,