Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nosferatu - theater review


a black and white silent play
Adapted by Brendan Balfe
Silent Theatre Company
Prop Theater
3502 N. Elston
October 19 - November 23, 2014
Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 5 pm

some of the brilliant design work by Rodolfo Polanco Casasola

Just because Hallowe’en is past doesn’t mean you have missed all the enjoyable spookiness this year and have only genuinely terrifying jinglebell hysteria to look forward to.  A must-see this season is the wondrous production, Nosferatu, now playing at Prop Theater in Chicago.  It is produced and performed by the Silent Theatre Company.  

Silent Theatre Company was formed in 2005 and started with a one-off interpretation of the 1929 silent film, “Lulu”.  They went on from there and have specialized in physical, non-verbal storytelling, by way of silent film re-inventions, dance, mime, fantasy and vaudeville stagings.  

The stage area at Prop Theater is very small but the imaginative multi-level design, lighting, projected images and direction manage to bring us into a world moving from Germany, through the Carpathians to Transylvania, to aboard the ship Epusa, and return to Wisborg Germany.  No dialogue is spoken; the text is communicated through movement and facial expressions as well as projected narrative intertitles, as in silent film (even using the same Gothic font).  

NOT from the stage production,but very similar.  This is an image from Murnau's film.  But you can get the idea.  

The story of Nosferatu follows very closely the plot of F. W. Murnau’s extraordinary 1922 film of the same name, which was an unauthorized version of Stoker’s novel Dracula.  The characters are:  Hutter, a real estate agent who is sent to Transylvania to complete the contract of a house sale for Count Orlock- our vampire.  Hutter’s wife Ellen has a foreboding of her husband’s journey and a psychic link with Count Orlock. Knock is the agent who sends Hutter on the assignment and has already had some communication with the vampire and is well aware of the horrors Hutter will encounter. 

(L) Evan Sierminski as Hutter and Manya Niman as Ellen

Knock also serves, in a way, as a sort-of master of ceremonies/stage magician as he interacts with and moves the set as needed.  He has a very nice, funny moment in the prologue when he starts to laugh out loud, stops suddenly, looks at the audience with his finger to his lips to remind us that silence should reign.  (Maybe it also meant, “Turn off your cell phones” ??  This performance was the only one I can remember anywhere that did not have that particular request prior to the curtain rising.  Luckily, it wasn’t needed.)  His character is one of only two who make any verbalizations.  Knock goes mad (madder I should say) and does have some maniacal laughing/shrieking near the end.  It makes sense dramatically – he is insane and in his own world.  

Count Orlock, played brilliantly by Nick Leininger, is the fetid centerpiece of the show of course.  He menaces his victims with animal instinct and yet with a strange tenderness as if he needs to get at that blood but wants to savor the foreplay.  Leininger shows us the bleak desolation and longing for human warmth and love the vampire must feel as he is trapped in his cold, eternal night.  His final attack on Ellen is violent, gruesome and perversely erotic.  

That final scene of sacrifice, seduction and death between Ellen and Orlock is done without any of the musical accompaniment we have heard throughout the play.  The only sound we hear is Orlock’s ragged, rasping breathing as he approaches Ellen and his fierce growls as he feeds.  The lack of music in this scene is a great choice as it forces us to focus more directly and intimately on the savage and (let’s face it) sexual pas de deux in front of us.

All of the actors are terrific.  Evan Sierminski as Hutter, the loving protector of Ellen and the terrified victim of Orlock: Diane McNulty (subbing for Manya Niman the night I attended) as Ellen projected strength and vulnerability.   

The design palette is black, white and gray even to white makeup for the actors to create the silent film look.  Orlock’s makeup seemed (to me) to have a very slight green tint, or maybe that’s just how it looked from my seat.  At any rate, it is properly grotesque.  His fingers were lengthened into inches long claws. 

The movements on stage are graceful and fluid.  Actor Joseph Vonderhaar who plays Knock moves with a nimble agility big men often have (bet he’s a great dancer) whether he is running from the townsfolk or struggling in a straightjacket. 

Unlike the musical score to many silent films, the music here is truly another character in the drama, not just an accompaniment.  It is performed on upright piano by John Urban with delicacy and depth of feeling.  Several classical pieces are used.  I was proud of myself for identifying a few of them:  Chopin’s Tristesse; Bach’s Goldberg Variations used with an overlay of bizarre cello solo during the dinner scene in Orlock’s castle; and the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 used extensively and dramatically in the last acts, both by the solo piano and a recorded orchestral arrangement. 

Even though the production is an homage to Murnau’s version of the story, there are a few variations from it.  Mostly the changes reference Werner Herzog’s 1979 film of “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and fit in nicely.  This Count Orlock is more like Klaus Kinski’s tragic Dracula than Max Schreck’s rodent-like nightmare.  There is one tiny nod to Coppola’s 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”.  See if you can spot it when you attend.  I’ll give you a hint:  it is a cross between Keanu Reeve’s shaving scene and the bread cutting scene. 

In case I haven't gotten my point across yet, I loved the show.  Whatever you do, don’t miss Nosferatu.  You have until November 23, 2014.  

Ensemble/Ship's Captain                                               Cooper Wise
Knock                                                                             Joseph Wonderhaar
Dr. Bulwer                                                                      Wesley Schilling
Ellen                                                                               Manya Niman
Hutter                                                                             Evan Sierminski
Ensemble/Constable                                                       Jeremy Campbell
Ensemble/Inn Keeper                                                     Liz Krane
Ensemble/Ship Crewman                                               Diane McNulty
Count Orlock                                                                   Nick Leininger
Piano                                                                               John Urban

Director                                                                          Brendan Balfe
Asst.Director/Projections Designer                                Victor Holstein
Stage Manager                                                              Mary Patchell
Asst. Stage Manager                                                     Jermaine Thomas
Stage Crew                                                                    Jennifer Howe
Set Design                                                                      Jeremy Campbell & Eli Grove
Lighting Design                                                               Chloe Honeyman-Blaede
Costume Design                                                              Diane Hamm
Make Up Designer                                                          Glenese Hand
Props                                                                              Tonika Todorova &
                                                                                          Joseph Vonderhaar
Artwork                                                                           Rodolfo Polanco Casasola

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!

No comments:

Post a Comment