A title like Dracula, a Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really defeats the chance of a snappy opening review sentence. It sounds like a '90s emo song title. And the editor in me wants to point out that putting a phrase between two commas suggests a digression. This play, could we call it Dracula Really?

The idea that Portland Center Stage's holiday-timed horror production could be called Dracula Really intrigues me on a number of levels, and—for all its titular problems—Kate Hamill's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel engaged me the same way. By the ten-minute mark, I was invested and curious about where it all would go.

Hamill's commissioned work debuted, at Classic Stage Company, in the cursed month of February 2020. The playwright told PCS Literary Manager Kamilah Bush that she chose to adapt Dracula for its inherent difficulty, saying: "People turn into bats and wolves! It's been done a million times already! Everybody already knows the basic beats of the story! - and also it's quite, ahm, misogynistic and xenophobic."

The feminist allegories in Dracula Really do not demure. It's fair to say that all the masculine characters fall into two categories: stupid or evil. But the production succeeds on at least three levels of interpretation: 1) As a lively and entertaining horror production that feels unexpectedly perfect for the dark days of our holiday season. 2) As a pop culture-influenced romp of sarcasm and reimagined fantasy. 3) As a potentially deeper treatise on the virus-like corruption of power.

You can see it for any of those reasons and come out perfectly pleased—the last may require some moody pondering, but you're in good company.

Nikki Weaver as Renfield photo by Shawnte Sims, courtesy of Portland Center Stage

We get a sense for these layers during the opening soliloquy by the play's madwoman Renfield (Nikki Weaver), whose prayers to a "father/ who art in Earth" adorn the sides of the stage, scrawled in chalk. Renfield recounts the pleasure that can be found in giving up power and blurs the meaning of her lines across memories of her own father, devotion to a controlling master, and metaphors for religious faith. 

This character was played by Hamill during the play's debut, and Weaver handles the delicate role masterfully—earning an audible "she's so good" from neighbors in the audience.

The rest of the cast is similarly stacked with talent. La'Tevin Alexander was immediately charming as the comical and high-strung lawyer Jonathan Harker. Setareki Weiniqolo played the title character with amicable force. His Count Dracula is entitled to power and wields it with misguided magnanimity. Costumed in floral print pants, a button-up shirt, and loafers (sans socks), the character's business bro subtext is flying.

Horror is difficult to do in a play. Jump scares and gore don't generally work on a proscenium stage. But Dracula Really uses mood-shifting light changes and a shaded scrim to great effect. It's impressive how menacing Weiniqolo looks when he's just standing at the back of the stage, illuminated in crimson hue.

Other elements of the horror genre, like unease and humor, translated well, carried by the cast's ability to make the audience care about them. We recently raved about the stage power of Sammy Rat Rios, but her performance as Lucy Westenra was a testament to her range. If the audience doesn't care what happens to the funny and clever Lucy, the whole thing falls apart. 

Doctor Van Helsing (Cycerli Ash) was a character that felt new, but believable—unique in Ash's brusque portrayal. There were moments I couldn't hear her lines, which was a shame because she got the most laughs. Pro tip: You think that "pointy" line is from Buffy, but it's actually from Game of Thrones.

It was easy to almost lose Mina Harker (Ashley Song) in the mix. Song played Mina as unsure, but growing ever-steadier. In the end, there's only one character who changes over the course of the narrative arc. The epically-titled show may wear Dracula's name, but it's Mina's story.

Dracula, a Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really plays on the US Bank Main Stage at Portland Center Stage at the Armory, 128 NW 11th, through Dec 24, $25-98, some nights are pay what you will, tickets here, 13+