The black comedy Mac Wellman’s Dracula, like its inspiration, is a horror story. “But here, the horror isn’t the monster. The horror [for the men in the play] is all of these out-of-control women,” says Jennifer Decker, artistic director of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company.
Are there out-of-control women in Dracula? We don’t seem to remember that part. There’s an undead guy, a woman in a nightgown, a bat and like that. We don’t remember any female characters running riot over the story.
“Dracula’s biting of the women is supposed to be seduction, but really, it’s misogynistic. The women [characters] are very oppressed. The one that doesn’t follow the rules gets punished; she gets killed. The other woman is behaving herself and she doesn’t get killed. The version that we’re doing amplifies that. There are lots of sexual innuendos throughout the story that make it clear that’s what the story is actually about.”
With all that oppression, killing and misogyny in the script, we wonder if Mac Wellman’s Dracula can be called a comedy. "The characters all take themselves very seriously, but yes, it's a comedy. A very dark, experimental comedy.
"And there's singing and dancing in it, but it's not a musical," Decker tells us. Wait, it's got singing and dancing but it's not a musical? "The show was originally presented with a companion piece about Dracula and his brides. The playwright gave us permission to use some of the poems from that show in Dracula and we put music to it."
Patricia Duran, recently named one of 20 Theater Workers You Should Know by American Theatre Magazine, plays Lucy (the one who doesn’t follow the rules). Christie Guidry plays Mina (she follows the rules) and Philip Hays plays Dracula.
Duran and Guidry are both founding members of Mildred's Umbrella and will be familiar to Houston theater fans. "Patricia's amazing. She's an equity actress that was a founding member of Mildred's Umbrella. She was in New York for a while, and now she's back. She's worked with the Alley, Catastrophic and she's going to be in something over at Main Street [Theater] later this year. Christie's also really wonderful. She's been in dozens of our plays. And Philip's also all over the place. He just did The Whale at Horsehead, and he's working with Main Street."
Duran isn't the only one getting national recognition these days. Decker and company received a $10,000 National Theatre Company grant from the American Theatre Wing for this production of Mac Wellman’s Dracula. That award follows a previous $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to produce The Drowning Girls earlier this year.
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This is the second time Mildred's Umbrella has produced Mac Wellman’s Dracula. It first performed it in 2004. The script is the same, Decker tells us, but the production should be significantly different. "A different musician created the sound track, so the mood of the music is very different. We were really small when we did it before. We had no money and it was very bare-bones and we didn't have a lot of time to put it together. This time, I was really exploring the sexual repression idea, focusing on that aspect of the story."
Mac Wellman's Dracula seems to be a perfect fit for the women-centric Mildred's Umbrella, which embraces non-traditional theater. "It is," Decker agrees. "It's experimental and it focuses on women. The only thing is that a man wrote it but he's on the right track with his interpretation."
The show closes on Halloween night with a big party after the curtain falls. Decker invites fans to come back: “If you’ve seen the show, on any night during the run, you can come to the party.”
Performances run October 15-31 at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. October 25; 8 p.m. October 26 at Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-463-0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. Pay-what-you-can to $20.