Zak Berkman and his cocreators at People's Light deserve a slew of awards for their world premiere Such Things as Vampires: A Folk Punk Dracula Inoculation. Offhand, I can't think of a narrative more in need of MeToo-ism, intersectionality, and oppositional politics than Bram Stoker's Dracula. And to pack it full of lesbian female heroines, indeterminate antiheroes, and all-white male villains just ensures that no one misses the points being made.
Oh, it's also a folk-punk evening of musical theater, cocreated by Stuart Carden (who also directs), Jessie Fisher, and acclaimed local deviser Mary Tuomanen. Set in the present, a traveling band of "Preventers" arrives in Malvern to combat a malignant presence (ostensibly vampires, but later, we learn – through the power of art! – that it's actually our fear of vampires). Here, a supersubtle aside introduces the "magic dirt" theory of geography and achievement for those not yet inoculated with this idea.
The Preventers then reenact the story of their 19th-century founders, Mina (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and Lucy (Isa Arciniegas), whose thwarted love in a time of vast social oppression gave rise to the cure for vampirism and a new vision for humanity's future. Isabella Byrd's harrowing lighting and Lee Kinney's ominous sound design transform Arne Sancianco's layered set into harrowing clifftops, the bowels of an asylum, and Transylvania, "more cemetery than country." Kinney's contributions in particular made me leap out of my seat in fright (during those rare moments in the play that didn't rivet me with a compulsion for social justice).
Daniel Croix Henderson gives a compelling, sympathetic turn as an asylum inmate who portends the arrival of Dracula. In a soft, soothing, acoustic guitar-driven song, he reveals the humanity behind those that society has locked away behind walls both physical and social. Along with Sam Henderson (as Van Helsing) and Alex Lydon (as the asylum director), Pearl Rhein (as a dim-witted Texan) rounds out a strong ensemble who play their own instruments. Rhein, in particular, impresses on the violin, and I longed to hear more of Jamie Mohamdein's wicked, potent musical score.
Such Things as Vampires concludes hastily, with the oft-stated message that "humans created vampires." The story doesn't quite make this dictum explicit or clear enough, but I, for one, appreciated the heavy-handedness, which should never let entertainment or any secondary goal of art interfere with enacting social change through the hefty ticket prices of professional theater.