Capsule Stage Reviews: Dracula, Macbeth, Malcolm and Teresa, MBTV, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club

 Dracula Fog swirls underfoot and Gregorian chant reverberates. Red light bathes two blanched, debauched brides wearing dusty wedding dresses. They perch on the stairs near the Gothic windows, watching with hungry anticipation. One pets a raven on her arm, the other hisses menacingly. An old crone sheathed in garlic and entangled in a bulky crucifix silently intones a benediction. A large bed with coverlets of red and black is to our left, a blighted jail cell to our right. Stacked in the bookcase at the foot of the bed are multiple volumes of Bram Stoker's novel, all with blood-red spines emblazoned with the title. This ride is gonna be fun. Via Theatre Southwest's deliciously creepy production of Steven Dietz's somewhat-faithful 1996 stage adaptation of Stoker's masterpiece of Victorian horror, Dracula, we're in the land of demonic dreams and nebulous nightmares, fog and crashing waves, howling wolves and unquenchable blood lust. The novel's Victorian-laced prose adds an antique flavor to the melodrama, but the playwright structures Act I with impressionistic flashbacks, a series of annoying detours that leap hither and yon in time. Dietz also adds a "young" and an "old" Dracula — the wizened old count, once infused with fresh new blood, morphs into a revitalized, virile presence. However, the "old" version, played with theatrical gusto by John Stevens, is so damned indelible, the "young" one (Scott McWhirter) doesn't stand a chance. Stevens's eyes blare forth from a face ashen and powdered with mold, and his gnarled hands end in black fingernails. Against his red medieval robe, his cascading white hair offsets his gaunt, icon-thin body; he's like a Chinese mandarin gone to seed. Stevens sinks his teeth into this part with demonic relish. However, the old ghoul disappears from the play faster than if he'd been hit by a sunbeam, and McWhirter, appearing from a neat revolving casket in the castle walls, must take his place. Dietz amends the story with an abundance of erotic undertones only hinted at in Stoker's original (not for nothing is the large bed a centerpiece of the set), yet McWhirter brings no sensuousness to the bloodsucker. Even with a mane of swashbuckling locks and leather trappings, he can't compete with the dread that Stevens imparts. In the transformation, young Dracula has lost his mojo. His boudoir manner needs a transfusion. Under the visually astute direction of Anaka Kohnitz — who also designed the set and, with Jim Allman, the play's evocative soundscape — the ensemble goes all hellfire, appropriately chewing up the scenery when not chewing on each other. Fog, gloom and doom scamper throughout Theatre Southwest. Abetted by J. Cameron Cooper's spooky lighting, it's a blood-curdling good time, never veering into camp but never straying too far from it either. The play is enriched with a full-blooded cast (Tyrell Woolbert, Bryan Maynard, Autumn Woods, Sam Martinez, Kevin Bray, John Zipay, Julie Oliver, Liz King and Shannon Grave). It's enough to raise the dead — a bloody good show! Through June 22. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-861-9505. — DLG

Macbeth In Stark Naked Theatre Company's season finale, Macbeth, real-life couple and troupe co-directors Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin tackle Shakespeare's most murderous married tag team. I'm not sure who wins. Knotty phrases that can seem so impenetrable on the page are rendered clear and clean when Stark Naked's ensemble sinks their skills into them. The Jacobean dust of centuries past is blown away, and Shakespeare is brought smack into our life, vivid and immediate. The joy can be delirious. "Can be" is the rub. There are also times when dear Shakespeare should be left alone, his directions followed and not made a hash of. It's all there on the page, complete, waiting for life. Full of prophecies, black magic and buckets of blood, Macbeth seethes with life. Concise, the play gallops across the stage with a breathless tale of ambitious Macbeth and his just-as-ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, whose gruesome rampage toward the throne of Scotland leaves an epic wake of slaughter. But the price of evil is what the conscious-stricken Thane describes so juicily as "full of scorpions is my mind." Once husband and wife start their evil journey, the blood lust is insatiable and inevitably leads to madness and destruction. How does respected director Kevin Holden begin? With Lady Macbeth leisurely soaking in her bathtub. High up on designer Jodi Bobrovsky's corrugated staircase, she reads a book, sips some wine and pours more bath oil while her leg languorously drapes over the side of the rounded marble bath. It's certainly an arresting image as we enter the theater, but oddly comic and slightly bizarre, too. What does it mean to Macbeth? Nothing, really. As quick, the lights go red and there's a violent rush of "Macbeth 101" as the entire plot is telescoped for us in dumbshow, with bodies dispatched, soldiers running about with knives drawn, and crowns swapped. It's busy, noisy and completely unnecessary. The production settles down, though, and Shakespeare holds sway. Miscast as Lady Macbeth, Tobin, one of Houston's most accomplished actors, tamps down the murderous interior but later finds the chill in the "sleepwalking" scene. Lehl is constantly alive. You can see him thinking, pondering, weighing the wickedness of his deeds, and later being crushed under his very bad decisions. In his sure hands, Macbeth's famed soliloquies are master classes of passionate precision. His Macbeth is brought low through his own shortfalls, but we understand how it could happen to any of us. Lehl makes us understand. Most of the cast rises to his level, with outstanding work by Matt Hune, as untested virginal Malcolm; David Matranga, as vengeful Macduff; Jeff McMorrough, as good-old-boy Banquo; and silky-voiced Jack Dunlop, as Macbeth's first victim, King Duncan. The witches (Susan Draper, Amy Buchanan and Regina Ohashi) whisper their prophecies with creepy glee, but where, oh where is the weird sisters' most famous scene, Macbeth's most famous scene? Why has the cauldron with its "double, double, toil and trouble" and "eye of newt" vanished? Director Holden has some explaining to do. Through June 22. Studio 101, 1824 Spring, 832-866-6514. $10-$20. — DLG

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