STAGE REVIEW Playhouse's 'Dracula' has film noir quality

Special effects and a black and white set added to the macabre tone.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A dark, eerie melancholy enveloped the Youngstown Playhouse stage for Friday night's opening performance of "Dracula." The somber mood of the drama was further enhanced by the film noir quality of the black and white set, the only real color being the blood-red wine, a single rose and the lining of the infamous vampire's cape.
Directors Robert Vargo and John R. Thompson have succeeded in striving to play down the horror aspect of the grisly tale to spotlight it as the gothic romance it was originally intended to be.
Naturally, the macabre setting is a sanatorium near London. The very shadows around the place are sinisterly alive. It is 1925 and young Lucy Seward is the victim of a mysterious illness that has left her extremely anemic and lethargic. She only seems to rally in the presence of Count Dracula during his frequent visits.
Her fianc & eacute;, Jonathan Harker, and her father, Dr. Seward, are beside themselves with worry as they await the arrival of Seward's friend and colleague, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing.
It is Van Helsing's diagnosis that sends them reeling: Lucy is being stalked by one of the undead, a vampire who is draining her of her blood and thus consigning her soul to also become a vampire.
Aiding and abetting this horrific creature is the lunatic Renfield, whose tortured soul begs for release even while doing his master's bidding. Unknowingly aiding the demon is the Sewards' maid, Miss Wells, while Butterworth, the sanatorium orderly, constantly searches for Renfield, repeatedly returning him to his room, from which he inexplicably escapes yet again.
Cast: Alan McCreary as Dracula cut an elegant figure as he calmly went about fulfilling his dark intentions. He imbued his character with an ease and grace of a creature that is in full control of every situation.
Victor D. Garcia was also excellent in the role of Van Helsing, although at times he stumbled over some of his lines.
Less impressive was David John Byknish II as Harker. Byknish seemed to bark his lines angrily, not even showing much tenderness in declaring his love for his sickly fianc & eacute;e.
Sara K. Wickline was quite good as Lucy, and Regina Reynolds also did a fine job as Miss Wells.
The clear standouts in this production, however, were Jonathan Emerson as Butterfield and Marty Yavorcik as Renfield. Emerson's Cockney accent was dead-on as he desperately searched for his insane charge, and Yavorcik's antics as the crazed, bug-eating Renfield were of stellar quality.
Also worthy of note were the special effects by Robert Lane and Chris Greenamyer. The bats flying around the stage were magical, although the reaction of the characters to them was totally inappropriate. No one, I repeat, no one, would just stand around and look at a bat flying around. At the very least one would duck or shrink away from it.
Still, "Dracula" is a very worthy effort, and, of course, in perfect keeping with the Halloween season.
X"Dracula" will continue its run through Saturday. Call (330) 788-8739 for show times and reservations.