Online since August 2002

The holidays start with Halloween this year

Published November 2007

By Carol Davis


The Turn of the Screw
By Henry James
Adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Janet Hayatshahi

Cygnet Theatre
6663 El Cajon Blvd, Suite N
San Diego
Through Nov. 11

St. Nicholas
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Sean Murray

Cygnet Theatre
6663 El Cajon Blvd, Suite N
San Diego
Through Nov. 10

By Steven Dietz
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker Directed by Christopher Vened

North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Ste. D
Solana Beach
Through Nov. 18

It used to be that things started to buzz after the Thanksgiving turkey was put away, and decorations for Christmas were put up. Theaters announced their holiday shows at the beginning of the season and we all proceeded from there. But now ... there are three ghostie, ghoulie and vampire shows out there in San Diego to start the holiday season at Halloween!

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw
Cygnet Theatre on El Cajon Boulevard in the eastern reaches of San Diego is currently mounting Henry James "The Turn of the Screw," adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher, in repertory with Conor McPherson's "St. Nicholas" and further north, the North Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting "Dracula" from the Bram Stoker novel and adapted by Steven Dietz and directed by Christopher Vened.

All three have their share of entertainment value and all three are quite different in content and nature; the only commonality lies in the fact that they are all designed to either scare the heebie jeebies out of us or give thought to our extraordinary senses, impulses and connections to another world if we let our imaginations roam.

"Screw" is the most intense of the three, starring the talented Amy Biedel as The Governess or The Woman, hired to take care of two troubled children who have seen their share of governesses and their share of trouble. The children's parents are both dead. The person responsible for the children is unable to care for them himself and hires a series of governesses. The boy is at boarding school and is somewhat of a troublemaker. His younger sister is at the home where the governess arrives to care for her. We learn that the governess has full charge of the children and that their caretaker does not want to be called back to the country house for any reason. Shortly after the governess arrives, the boy is sent home after being expelled from school and that's when the governess begins to see and hear strange things and voices.

James' 1898 novella is told in narrative by The Man (David Tierney) who has found The Woman's journal. Directed deftly by Janet Hayatshahi, the story unfolds on Sean Murray's stark, expansive set with several staircases leading to platforms with windows looking out. It is remarkably lit by Eric Lotze, who manages lots of shadows and eerie-looking shadowy forms cast on the plaster walls. Both Biedel and Tierney perform in dance-like fashion, choreographed by Hayatshahi and executed to perfection by both actors. The tale, which might just be in The Woman's imagination, really creeps into our own psyche as it progresses. It is, after all, a ghost story even though this one is more psychological in nature than actually conjuring up ghosties. While Biedel stays in character throughout, Tierney also takes on the role of the little boy and housekeeper without so much as blink. Both actors are excellent and the production is worth a look-see.

St. NicholasSt. Nichlas
Playing in repertory, Conor McPherson's little-seen "St. Nicholas" is told by that master of storytellers Ron Choularton as directed by Murray. What a performance! What a tour de force! What fun. And it's all about an all-too-taken-with-himself theater critic whose search for self leads him to pimp for vampires. Sound interesting?

It's more than that. Choularton, sipping on a tall glass of Guinness, tells McPherson's story about family, loss, love and renewal. It could have been his own story, he is so convincing. Effortlessly, and before we even realize where he is going, we learn about his life, his disappointments, his family, his disgust with his profession as a theater critic, those around him and finally his encounter with vampires. It doesn't make your skin crawl or have you looking over your shoulders. It's matter of fact, real, and when he's done telling his tale and he walks off the stage, a collective WOW! is heard.

McPherson's other ghost story, "The Weir," is a series of monologues as told by customers in a pub to pass the chilly night. McPherson's stories are powerful, haunting and ghostly. In a recent New York Times article, he is quoted as saying "I don't know if it's my work or Irish work, but rather than the horizontal of 'Here we are on earth and how do we deal with each other?' my plays tend to be vertical: 'Where do I come from and what ... is going to happen?' You can see for yourself at Cygnet.

Heading north, watch out for "Dracula." He's on the loose and managing to get a bite of every pretty girl's neck along the freeway. Packed with a solid cast and on Marty Burnet's versatile set, one can't be amazed enough at how together this production is based on past Dracula mishaps in our fair city. Several come to mind but the one that got the most attention was "Dracula" the musical at the La Jolla Playhouse. In fact, I still have a sweatshirt that I sprung for thinking no one would believe that I had seen a musical of Dracula.

I think I was the only one in the audience who didn't take that one seriously. This one, however odd one might think Sean Sullivan's Renfield may be eating rats, going insane and smashing babies, is anything but funny; it's just plain camp, it's gothic and it does get pretty darn eerie. In fact, there are times when it is actually scary.

Between Chris Luessman's sound design, M. Scott Grabau's lighting and the larger-than-life Matt Thompson as Dracula, one might wish for a non-eventful evening at home. But this is just plain good theater. And there is enough blood and lust to make every good Dracula lover happy. The cast overall, including Jason Heil as Harker, Brenda Dodge as Mina, Christy Yael as Lucy (both girls get a feel for Dracula's fangs) and Robert Grossman as Van Helsing (the expert vampire doctor who has all the remedies for getting rid of Dracula, including lining Mina's bedroom in garlic, which unfortunately was too late for her), put this Transylvanian melodrama in the limelight just in time for the little ghosties and goblins to be out trick or treating. In fact, it will continue through Nov. 18.

See you at the theater.

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