IT TAKES A CERTAIN AMOUNT of artistry to adapt a classic story, one that nearly everyone knows, into something new and interesting—not to mention genuinely frightening. Northwest Classical Theatre Company (NWCTC) does just this with their production of Dracula, based on Bram Stoker's novel and adapted for the stage by Steven Dietz. Jon Kretzu's direction of this tawdry, well-known tale of blood suckers and Victorian parlor play is surprisingly inspired, telling a story that's at once new and engaging, and rooted in the book's original style. The production flew beyond my expectations (which were low: honestly, I thought it was going to be corny, boring, or derivative) and instead told a truthful story that was not only perfect for the week leading up to Halloween, but worth watching at any point during the year.

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Okay, enough with the general wash of praise. Some specifics: The play is grounded by strong performances from Todd Van Voris as Van Helsing; Micheal Mendelson as a Dracula you'll wish had more stage time; and Andy Lee-Hillstrom as the tortured and often comedic Renfield. Lee-Hillstrom presents the most interesting performance—I would venture to say that this is a breakout role for him. The rest of the cast does well by their parts, and it is hard to find a weak link in this ensemble. The only criticisms I can offer here would be the occasional volume and sightline issues. (This could be due to the Shoe Box Theatre's intimate atmosphere trapping actors into the belief that they don't have to project, or the alleyway set design that sometimes left performers giving whole monologues with their backs to one side of the audience.)

These moments are easily overlooked, though, and the play generally moves along at a healthy clip (with the exception of some confusing narrative moments in Act Two) that is thrilling and downright suspenseful. I'll spare you the spoil, but will say that there are some moments of fright of the sort that one forgets the theater can actually provide. NWCTC should be proud. They've done right by the season, and Mr. Stoker as well.

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