Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is creepy all right, and not always in a good way. The fanged Count, after all, makes a life (and afterlife) of seducing unwilling women and rendering them “unclean” and thus damned for both this life and the next.
But there’s a new Dracula in town, courtesy of the Hypocrites theater company. Director Sean Graney’s adaptation (from a script by Timothy F. Griffin) turns Stoker’s patriarchal skeeviness into a gore-soaked feminist fable. Breon Arzell, 34, plays the Transylvanian nobleman with a taste for blood—and a fascination with women who bite back. We caught up with Arzell for a conversation about playing the iconic creature in a world where bleeding women own the night.
What makes this Dracula different from the bazillion other renditions out there?
Our Dracula does have the same M.O. as Stoker’s: He wants blood. When he goes in for the kiss, it’s about men exercising their power and privilege. It’s raw and animalistic, but it’s also about Dracula exerting his status. The adaptation is a commentary on the world the story is set in—and the world today. There’s so many little nuggets in the dialogue that comment on marriage, having a family and the way women are "supposed" to live.
In the book, the women are essentially stereotypes. Lucy is basically the slattern foil to her virgin best friend Mena. Both are prey—Dracula has his way with both of them. How does this adaptation deal with those stereotypes?
Here, Lucy is all about personal freedom and her right to express herself the way she sees fit. She’s not just this racy, promiscuous woman. She’s empowered to make her own rules rather than live within the boundaries society sets. That really intrigues Dracula. He’s drawn to her power. And Mena, well, no spoilers. But Mena has her own strength.
Speaking of Mena: Dracula unleashes Carrie-levels of blood in Mena’s big scene. Is it all just a good old-fashioned splatterfest or is all that blood something more symbolic?
There’s a line in the play, "the essence of life is in the blood," so yes, there is something slightly symbolic about it. There’s the acknowledgment that blood is the source of power and life. By taking control of blood, you take control of life.
What about Dracula’s entourage of lady vampires? In the book, they’re a cross between sex slaves and furies and MTV vixens. On stage, they seem to be gender-free. Also fully clothed.
Yeah, Sean was like, "We are not having scantily clad women following Dracula around." We have these creatures we’re calling vampire nuns. You can’t see their bodies. They’re horrific.
What’s going on with Dracula’s assistant, Renfield? He’s a crazy man in the novel. Your Renfield is a hysterical woman.
Making Renfield a woman adds layers that just aren’t there when he’s a man. It’s also kind of a comment on the stereotype of the hysterical woman. Renfield is supposed to be crazy, but she points out that she’s only crazy because the men around her say she is.
So is Dracula himself a feminist here?
The adaptation is definitely a feminist take on the novel. It’s about a vampire, but it’s also about gender roles and our perspective of them.