Halloween comes early to Theatre in the Park as Executive Director Ira David Wood III remounts his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The stage is set even as you walk in the door to the theater, with holiday ornaments and Halloween creepies. Even the ushers dress as ghouls and a sepulchurian voice announces the countdown to curtain. Everything is set to get you in the mood; after all, if the audience is not ready to suspend their disbelief then all is lost for a play like Dracula. Not to worry. TIP has magically transformed the theater to make even the most wary of us eager to become immersed in Stoker’s eerie masterpiece.

Dr. John Seward (John Honeycutt) is a busy man of late. His daughter’s best friend, Lucy (Kelly McConkey), has died after a brief but inexplicable illness. Mina (Caroline Millington) shows signs of the same illness, much to the horror of her fiancé, Jonathan Harker (James Miller). Dr. Seward has called in an old friend to consult, Dr. Abraham van Helsing (D. Anthony Pender). As Mina continues to decline, the situation is complicated by a madman, Renfield (Edward Freeman), who has escaped from Dr. Seward’s nearby mental hospital. Once van Helsing has arrived, however, his examination of the body of Lucy confirms his worst fears. He tells Seward that every indication shows that Lucy and Mina are under the spell of vampires. As Dr. Seward scoffs, his caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Wells (Danny and Kathy Norris), cry out the presence of evil and doom. Van Helsing understands all too well the situation once Seward mentions that the old house next door has been taken over by a foreigner, Count Dracula (Ira David Wood IV).

The play is melodrama at its best, and would not have been as successful without each actor’s sincere commitment to character in an unlikely situation. Honeycutt believably portrayed Seward as a man of science struggling with the evidence that vampires do indeed walk on his earth. D. Anthony Pender ably played van Helsing with deadly seriousness in convincing Seward such dreadful things are possible. As van Helsing believes, so we believe. Further, Ira David Wood IV as Dracula seemed as real as the actor and all his stage magic could make him. Wood commanded the stage with a presence that seemed secure in all the knowledge that Dracula’s 500 years on this earth would give him. When van Helsing and Dracula came face-to-face, Pender and Wood made us believe that we were seeing a timeless battle between good and evil.

The play runs a fleet two hours, including three acts and two intermissions, during which time the sets must be changed. A swift and silent crew of over two dozen stagehands kept the show running smoothly despite the many “magic” moments that must be seen to. Onstage pyrotechnics and bodies disappearing before our eyes were only a couple of the divine tricks witnessed. Coffin lids opened seemingly by themselves and crucifixes mysteriously caught fire. Each magic trick was executed flawlessly and everything ran smooth as glass opening night, much to the delight of the sold-out audience. Several feats of magic earned spontaneous applause; it is up to the viewer to catch them all.

When all is said and done, the cast and crew must make us believe what we see, no matter how outlandish the story or fantastic the spectacle. Theatre in the Park has made us believe. On the boards in downtown Raleigh, Dracula lives again. And we’re just plain tickled about it.

Dracula continues through Sunday, September 27. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.