Hurt Me, Daddy: “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really”

Sara Jones plays Renfield (left); shown with Maria Hendricks as Dr. Van Helsing (middle) and Lisa San Pascual as Mina Harker (right). Photo by Gillian Mariner Gordon.

Presented by The Umbrella Stage Company 
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Michelle Aguillon
Original Music Compositions by Valerie Forgione
Intimacy Direction by Kayleigh Kane 
Fight Direction by Sarah Flanagan

Sept. 30 – Oct. 23, 2022
The Umbrella Arts Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CONTENT WARNINGS: This play contains sexual situations, violence, and death by suicide. It may not be appropriate for persons under 16 years old.

This production uses strobe light effects and fog effects.

CONCORD, Mass. — Do heteros know they’re supposed to like their partners? Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is yet another retelling of a classic gothic romance novel in which men treat their female partners terribly; their behavior is belittling, lacks respect, and reeks of contempt. It’s no wonder playwright Kate Hamill rewrote it with a snappy, violent finale. 

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really spins the novel by Bram Stoker for a modern audience of thinking minds. Mina Harker (Lisa San Pascual) expects a baby any day now, but her husband Jonathan (Joseph Jude) must assist Count Dracula (Dustin Teuber) with land acquisition. Mina’s best friend Lucy Westenra (Gabrielle Hatcher) can’t contain her glee at marrying Dr. George Seward (Dominic Carter) but fears she must for George’s sake.

Renfield (Sara Jones) can’t remember what happened to her husband. Drusilla (Emily Sheeran) and Marilla (Bowen Huang) hunger. Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is not told in letters, thankfully.

Hamill’s Dracula, now playing the Umbrella Stage’s black box theatre, takes its intersectional feminism very seriously. It outwardly ridicules the so-called “alpha male” ideology and traditional, misogynistic gender roles. It’s a chauvinist’s fever dream and the liberation movement’s wet one.

 While the work of feminists and the feminist movement is important and should be taken seriously, Umbrella Stage’s Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really takes itself too seriously. With two exceptions, Aguillon and the cast largely miss the inherent camp and flair Hamill embeds into the script. You’re squirting fake blood into an unsuspecting audience while making hungry yum-yum sounds. You should be having purposeful, transparent fun! You’re certainly fun to watch. 

Sara Jones as Renfield begins the show. As we enter the black box, Jones is scratching with chalk at the set. Renfield is writing a mission statement: “Hurt me, Daddy.” She embodies benevolent sexism

Jones walks the line between unhinged and hinged in her performance of Renfield. It’s a deliberate mix of comedy and drama. Her physical character work draws us into the play. She shows us how Dracula hurts her. She tells us it feels good; it looks like it hurts. Her management of Renfield’s twisted lines makes us recoil. We don’t know if she’s suffering from psychosis or if she’s liberated by it. 

Dustin Teuber in the title role is appropriate amounts of arrogant and suggestive. His performance dangles dangerously close to proto-Frank N. Furterisms. Dracula eschews the feminine, but he does love himself excessively. Dracula, like Frank N. Furter, doesn’t care who he hurts while he’s getting what he wants. He’s putting the dom in total world domination. 

Photo by Gillian Mariner Gordon. Marilla (Em Sheeran) and Drusilla (Bowen Huang) present Jonathan Harker (Joseph Jude) to the Count (Dustin Teuber).

Teuber makes fun mouth sounds before chomping down on a victim. Sometimes those sounds are made directly into the other person’s mic, and it’s hilarious. Then, when he’s fed, Teuber straightens his vest. A slovenly Dracula might not have one wife much less three. That’s good character work. 

The accent work by the cast is good. Not as good as Keanu Reeve’s poignantly ingenius work in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula but still quite good.

This production contains gore. There were moments when the audience was surprised by a small explosion of blood in their direction. Count Dracula is a vampire. He’s going to do some biting. 

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really contains much less gore than an Improv Boston Gorefest show (RIP) but more than a straightforward production of Dracula. It’s October in New England and Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is a fantasy play in a historically protestant town. The first few rows may get moist.

 The sleight-of-hand blood pack work done by the cast is cleverly done. The packs made it from wherever they are kept onstage or on their person to the recipient’s body quickly and invisibly. I highly suggest that audience members don’t look for the actors’ sleight-of-hand work. The splatter and the surprise are part of the fun. Let yourself relish in your horrified – or in my case gleeful – reaction. 

Seating for Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is general admission. Parts of the performance are in-the-round because the cast is in the center of the stage area. There are no bad seats but the best seats are in the middle. 

The black box theatre is an intimate setting. It meant the audience was mere feet from the stage… And the backstage. We could hear actors whispering backstage during the show. I trust that you think you were being quiet; we heard you anyway. 

It’s clear that director Michelle Aguillon and her cast worked hard on this production. Hamill’s messages are delivered with special care; the cast performs to a high standard. The original music by Valerie Forgione is seasonally spoopy. Maria Hendricks looks Bad Ass in Anna Silva’s costume. The stained glass window by Melody Hsu is ethereal. 

The fight choreography by Sarah Flanagan was effective. Some of the actors have performed stage fights before. Some are new to it. The audience can see what Flanagan intended despite their abilities. 

Feminism is soul-searing work for the greater good of all humanity that requires constant self-sacrifice and principled discipline. Feminism is also fun – regardless that the uncultured masses assume we’re joyless harridans who think we can’t take a joke. Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really is proof at least some of us have senses of humor. 

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