“Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker” entrances at the Coterie

Lindsay Adams


“Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker”, currently running at the Coterie, is filled with thrills galore thanks to a phenomenal performance by Zachary Andrews, a graduate of UMKC’s Acting MFA Program, and fresh, inventive direction from Jeff Church. The attention to detail and mood is exquisite. Andrews starts the show playing a keyboard made to sound like an organ to the side of the stage as a speech about turning off phones and recording devices opened the show. The set-up transitioned the audience into the  strange and unfamiliar world of monster-infested Transylvania and Victorian England.

In the on-man show, Andrews plays Count Dracula as well as his many victims. The most prevalent role, which also functions as the narrator of the piece, is that of Jonathan Harker. A young solicitor who travels on business to Transylvania to aid a rich client, Dracula, Harker’s entire world is threatened by his encounter with the vampire. The play moves around the globe from Transylvania to England and features  a variety of characters Andrews embodies from Mina Harker, Jonathan’s wife, to mental patient Renfield and Van Helsing, a hunter of the supernatural.

The show is dealing with a story that is both very well known and not known at all. The original story of Dracula, written by Bram Stoker, is vaguely familiar and viewers have been inundated with vampirism in media, but the actual plot is not particularly known. The show did a great job of condensing the plot and the characters to their most basic functions, while reserving the truth of the novel.

Church’s decision to revamp the show allowed it to elevate from its well-trod story by blending energetic physicality with the very high-brow language of its narrator. With monkey bars and acrobatic rings set up around the stage, one knows that this is not going to be any traditional theatre experience.  The thin fence surrounding the main playing space cleverly heightens the sense of panic and claustrophobia Harker feels as he starts to recognize that he is trapped.

The show accepts and revels in its own theatricality without succumbing to it. The gymnastics didn’t detract from the story being told nor turn it into a circus. Instead Church uses it as a chance to play with traditional perceptions and angles, having Jonathan Harker crawl horizontally on top of the monkey bars set up near the top of the playing space to represent him climbing up a cliff.

Yet, all of this would have been for nothing, if Andrews, who holds the whole show on his shoulders, had not delivered such a powerful performance.

Although Jonathon Harker is the lead role of the novel and this play adaptation, he tends to be overshadowed by the titular monster. However, Andrews makes Harker human and accessible, and most importantly keeps the audience rooting for him despite Harker’s hopeless naivety.

Andrews’s performance of Dracula also does not falter even in comparison to the greats who have played this role in the past. A crowning achievement is the characterization of the tormented and insane Renfield. Almost feral, Andrew’s madman captures the audience’s pity and disgust, but above all it’s interest, causing a yearning for more of the character.

While the story can often get bogged down in its narration, Andrews is a natural storyteller whose enthusiasm infuses the long monologues. Andrews’s alacrity and athleticism also serves him well as he spends much of the show climbing about the set. He shows off with incredible vocal and physical gymnastics, not only flitting from character to character but from monkey bar to monkey bar.

He not only builds 10 different characters, but he also builds the spaces that contain them, creating doors and windows, where physically there are none. Never does it come off as cheap mime or mimicry, but works as a transformation of himself and the set. His feats of physical strength and gymnastics include nimbly walking along the top of a rickety fence and hanging upside down while performing lines.

Andrews sported an anachronistic costume throughout the show, bringing to mind glam rockers of the ‘80s, which gives a nice punk attitude to liven up the play.  The costume has personality but is flexible enough that it works for all the different characters Andrews has to play. The only other costume piece is a white scarf used in two very different ways for two characters. This minimalism is to be commended. Anything more would have seemed superfluous and extravagant.

The proper atmosphere can ensure either the success or the failure of this show, and the production elements worked cohesively to create the dark and angst-ridden mood of the piece. Tattered curtains hanging across the back were lit and projected upon to great effect, and the emotional scheme of the lighting was phenomenal. The show builds a sense of dread while nodding to the melodrama and dated ridiculousness of the story itself.   “Dracula: The Journal of Jonathan Harker” is a not-to-be missed theatrical experience. For more information and to buy tickets go to http://thecoterie.org/.