Opening night of Theatre in the Park‘s Dracula seemed to set the stage for the long-awaited fall weather of October in Raleigh. Patrons of Friday night’s opening performance walked out of 90+ degree heat through the cobweb-adorned threshold and into the dimly lit lobby; foreboding Victorian melodies pulsed through the air. After a good dose of vampire lore, patrons walked out of the theater into a nearly 20-degree temperature drop and it finally felt like fall. Director Ira David Wood III revisited his own adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic after a hiatus from back-to-back seasons producing Dracula in 2015 and 2016. The nearly sold out house indicated a welcomed return of the seasonal work. Wood’s adaptation was both well-developed and efficient in a run time of under two hours, including two intermissions.

The story is a familiar one: Dr. Abraham VanHelsing leads a family in pursuing the blood-thirsty Count Dracula, who has already claimed one young Lucy Westenra as a victim, before he can take the family’s only daughter, Mina, as his next.

Guests familiar with Wood’s locally popular adaptation of A Christmas Carol may be in for a surprise with this offering, which markedly omits the campy asides and audience interactions that popularized Carol, now in its 45th annual production by Theatre in the Park. While Wood opted away from a comedic approach to the classic retelling of Count Dracula, so too did he avoid producing a full-on horror play – perhaps to avoid excluding audience of all ages. Regardless of motive, Theatre in the Park’s production of Dracula is almost historical in its retelling, with excellent production elements and seasoned actors on hand to maintain the excitement and allure that surround the infamous count.

Although the designer goes un-credited in the program, a detailed sound design set the stage with a foreboding Victorian soundtrack that pervaded every area of the space, even from the moment guests arrived to the theater. Within the performance, swelling music heightened moments of suspense and well-timed gunshots created perfect “BOO!” moments, spilling at least one cup of coffee in the startled, giggling crowd. Technical director Nathaniel Conti conducted a challenging variety of special effects with great success – projections, floating props, vocal distortions, and real flames were icing on the cake of a complex and tightly run design. Tip of the hat to stage manager Yamila Monge on a well-called show. Stephen J Larson’s set design was both versatile and comprehensive for the three different settings of each act. LeGrande Smith produced a highly detailed costume design head to toe for each of the nine cast members, including a very convincing – if not authentic – straitjacket for escaped asylum inmate Renfield.

Dracula alumni John Honeycutt proved very at home in his reprisal of Dr. Seward, whom he also portrayed in TIP’s 2015 and 2016 productions of the play. Ira David Wood IV also reprised his role as the famous Count Dracula, flexing his vocal talent in moments ranging from soft temptation to growling rage. Kelly McConkey and Harper Cleland worked well to convey the different stages of Dracula’s brides as Lucy and Mina, respectively. McConkey, despite brief stage time, embodied Lucy’s blind devotion to Dracula as a newly-converted vampire while Cleland’s Mina grappled with Dracula’s allure and overcoming his spell. Tony Pender seemed born to play VanHelsing and in perhaps Smith’s most successful costume design, he completely looked the part. Although Jonathan, Mina’s fiancé, could have been a bumbling cuckolded foil to the suave Count Dracula, actor James Miller created a valiant and capable version of the character. Fellow supporting actors, Danny and Kathy Norris as Jacob and Mrs. Wells and Daryl Ray Carliles as Renfield did well to convey high stakes and provide substance to characters that could have easily been written off as inconsequential.

From the sidewalks decorated for fall to the mood-setting lobby, Theatre in the Park offers an immersive theatrical experience from the moment guests arrive. On stage, they back it up with well-rounded production elements and an all-around strong ensemble. With Halloween on the horizon and the temperatures finally reflecting fall, Theatre in the Park’s Dracula is a good bit of fun to get in the spirit of the season.

Dracula continues through Sunday, October 20. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.