a black and white silent play
Adapted by Brendan Balfe
Silent Theatre Company
3502 N. Elston
October 19 - November 23, 2014
Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 5 pm
for tickets: http://www.silenttheatre.com/#!main-stage/c1cvq
|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 &
Artwork Rodolfo Polanco Casasola
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