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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Actor's Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Trump Card, South Pacific and Rock the Presidents

Kale Burr and Sarah Scroggins (center)
Photo by Lisa Webb / Southwest Shots Photography
There have been countless film and theatrical adaptations of Bram Stoker's classic gothic novel "Dracula." Actor's Youth Theatre presented a brand new version which just ended a two-week run that delivered plenty of chills and thrills with robust characters and meaty situations for AYT's teenage cast to sink their teeth into.

Written and directed by Zack Diepstraten, this new adaptation sticks fairly close to Stoker's original novel, though it does streamline some of the plot elements. It centers on the century old vampire Dracula who engages estate agent Jonathan Harker to journey from England to his castle in Transylvania in order for him to purchase up properties in England, which allows him to search for new blood. Dracula soon becomes enamored with Harker's fiancée Mina and her friend Lucy. Once he feasts on Lucy's blood it brings Doctor Van Helsing onto the scene, who immediately realizes that Lucy has been bitten by a vampire. Soon, Mina, Val Helsing, and a trio of Lucy's suitors are on the hunt to find and kill Dracula before he kills again.

Besides condensing the plot, Diepstraten also changes a few of the male characters to women, presumably to better accommodate the higher ratio of women to men who usually come out to audition for youth productions. The gender changes and the streamlining of the plot don't detract at all from the joy of Stoker's story. However, Diepstraten's decision to have three different actors portray various incarnations of Dracula, while an inventive move, does add some confusion due to unclear transitions between the three versions of the Count, especially when a younger and handsomer version first appears in England under a different name, and an end battle scene that has all three actors on stage at the same time. Fortunately that is the only stumble in the script as Diepstraten's dialogue is crisp and period appropriate and provides some added layers to the characters beyond just being plot specific.

The AYT cast was up to the challenge of bringing these iconic characters to life in dramatic fashion without delving into camp. Kale Burr, Noah Delgado, and Carter Palumbo played the three versions of Count Dracula. Burr delivered a perfectly polished portrayal of the romantic, domineering and seductive leading man who entrances Mina, and Delgado did well as the older and creepier version. Both spoke with effective and consistent accents. Palumbo, wearing a superb monster costume, played the beastly version with a fierceness that added chills in his many scenes.

Sarah Scroggins was excellent as Mina, a strong though confused woman. Her scenes with AJ Marshall, who was equally as good as Lucy, though dialogue heavy, were well delivered and added a nice balance to the creepier moments. Ben Wright added some moments of humor as the funny, smart and direct Van Helsing, and Troy Jansen, Hailee Weber, Josh Robinaugh, Cole McAfee, and Wesley Shields all got moments to shine as Harker, Dr. Seward, and Lucy's three suitors, respectively.

Zack Diepstraten's direction provided a swift pace for the piece but also allowed for some of the more intimate and personal moments to resonate. While the cast was all quite good, some needed to project more, as there were many lines of dialogue that were missed, even though several actors wore body microphones. Mike Smyth's set design, though it had a static background set, worked well for the various locations in the play. Patti Dugger's costumes were lush and gothic in nature while Josh Lindblom's evocative lighting provided plenty of creepy moments.

While it didn't add anything new in the way to present Stoker's famous story, Zack Diepstraten's new adaptation of Dracula did find an interesting way to portray three different incarnations of the famous vampire. With a talented cast and fine creative aspects, Actor's Youth Theatre's production was a creepy and fun theatrical treat.

The Actor's Youth Theatre production of Dracula ran from October 20th to 29th, 2016, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information for upcoming productions can be found at or by calling 480-907-7050.

Written and directed by Zack Diepstraten
Set Designer: Mike Smyth
Costume Designer: Patti Dugger
Prop Designer: Zack Diepstraten
Lighting Designer: Josh Lindblom
Makeup: Cheri Lundgreen and Patti Dugger
Stage Manager: Kristin Bowler

Mina Murray: Sarah Scroggins
Vlad Dracula: Kale Burr
Count Dracula: Noah Delgado
The Beast: Carter Palumbo
Jonathan Harker: Troy Jansen
Lucy Westenra: AJ Marshall
Mrs. Westenra: Sarah Edmunds
Abraham Van Helsing: Ben Wright
Dr. Jane Seward: Hailee Weber
Arthur Holmwood: Josh Robinaugh
Quincey Morris: Cole McAfee
Victor: Wesley Shields
The Brides: Layla Fahrbach, Sarah Martino, Stormy Mullis, Kylee Webb
Renfield: Allyson Lundell
Ensemble: Tamara Benham, MariBeth Blankemeier, Ashlynn Casselbury, Alessandro Fiasche, Zach Furman, Ashley Gaskin, Carter Hurlburt, Jay Lundell, Seth McAfee, Miranda Moulton, Nicole Nelson, Tyler Snell, Hannah Trierweiler, Ashlyn Woolfrey

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