A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Since one of my favorite novels is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” I had to check out Archway Theatre’s adaptation on Nov. 20, even though it was closing weekend. Tiny theaters like the Archway in North Hollywood, which has maybe 40 seats, offer an unbeatable intimacy and always seem to have high-caliber acting. I think they have to. What a disappointment it would be to see bad or even mediocre actors at such close range. The Archway did not disappoint.

Producing Artistic Director Steven Sabel adapted and directed the production, which which was recently nominated for three NoHo Fringe Festival Awards. Given the title, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” I expected a close recounting of the novel. However, Sabel also took inspiration from two films of the same name, turning Mina into Dracula’s reincarnated love. He also rewrote Renfield’s part so that the asylum patient is involved in the final destruction of the Count. It all worked. Of course, I admit I also enjoyed Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

The opening scene was masterfully chosen: Dracula stealing up behind Jonathan Harker as he shaves in a handheld mirror. Sabel’s fast-paced direction took the audience through numerous short scenes with clear purpose, building suspense and heightening the drama though we all know the outcome. His ending provided a creative twist that was spooky in a classic horror film way.

Costumes, makeup and music were all well done. Set design was minimal, but no matter — the acting was exceptional. Dracula’s boots are big ones to fill, and Sam Shearon was phenomenal. With his long black hair, Shearon partly called to mind Gary Oldman’s Count in the Coppola film, but the performance was all his own. Melissa W. Bailey’s Mina and Hadas Lev’s Lucy were both mesmerizing. The girls’ transformations were utterly convincing. Hunter Davis’ Renfield was crazy good, even when he wasn’t consuming a grotesque invertebrate.

However, in an otherwise stellar cast, there were a couple of distractions. Luke Martin McMahan was miscast as Jonathan Harker, just as Keanu Reeves was in the Coppola film. I couldn’t buy either of those actors in the role. Also, I couldn’t figure out why Mina’s mother was the only character without a British accent.

Overall, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was a creative take on a classic, well played by the actors.

—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA

Coming up in Archway’s 2016 season are “Twelfth Night” and “Hamlet” (It’s no coincidence that Sabel is founder of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival). The Archway Theatre is located at 10509 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. For more information, visit www.ArchwayLA.com.