Trey Ryan as Count Dracula, second from right, bares his fangs as the rest of the cast gathers after a recent performance of “Dracula” at Largo’s Eight O’Clock Theatre. Other cast members are, seated, from left, Travis Moore (Jonathan Harker) and Rhiannon Mooney (Lucy Seward); back row, Paul Douglas (Butterworth), Colleen Boylan (Wells), James Roth (Dr. Seward), Gary L. Smith (Van Helsing), Ryan, and Terry Farley (R.M. Renfield).
The 100 or so people gathered at the Largo Cultural Center’s Tonne Playhouse Sept. 14 caught their breath as the curtain rose, then spontaneously broke into applause for set designer Tom Hansen’s detailed depiction of the English sanatorium setting for the Eight O’Clock Theatre’s season-opening production of “Dracula.”
Hansen provides a foreboding stage for the cast of eight to enact the story of the bloodthirsty Count from Transylvania.
The cast gave a mostly smooth performance at the part dress rehearsal and part benefit preview, managing varying accents with few lapses and framing key moments with style.
Terry Farley, a student at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, was remarkably uninhibited as the mad R.M. Renfield, and Rhiannon Mooney’s transformation from pasty-faced, simpering Lucy Seward to vampire vixen was startling.
James Roth (Dr. Seward), Travis Moore (Jonathan Harker), Gary L. Smith (Van Helsing), Paul Douglas (Butterworth) and Colleen Boylan (Wells) provided solid support.
But it was Trey Ryan in the title role who dominated the stage both in size (according to director Linda Woodruff Weir, he’s 6’4”) and in presence. Ryan’s fluid grace contrasted sharply with the rest of the cast’s increasing agitation and provided a moment of physical shock when he suddenly and swiftly changed pace.
Lighting and special effects also are noteworthy parts of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production.
The Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel is an ambitious undertaking especially for a community theater that runs primarily on love and sweat. There are no paid actors – day jobs vary from retail work to lobbyist to shuttle driver – and few paid technical people.
Nevertheless, according to Betsy Byrd, stage manager for “Dracula” and Eight O’Clock Theatre’s business manager, it costs about $15,000 to put on a production such as “Dracula” and more than twice that to produce a musical.
Costs are recouped from ticket sales and any profits are split with the city of Largo. In past years, Byrd said, Eight O’Clock Theatre has paid for half of the new soundboard and part of the new LED sign out front. It also provides scholarships for some of the participants.
Theatergoers mingled with the actors and technicians at a reception afterward that featured a coffin-shaped donation box draped with garlic bulbs prominently displayed on the refreshment table. Proceeds from Thursday evening were earmarked for the “Grapevine” magazine to help pay for the Lary Awards, local community Theatre’s equivalent of the Tony Awards, which will be presented Oct. 9 at the Largo Cultural Center.
The awards are named after Lary Crews who in 1978 founded the “Grapevine,” a local theater who’s-doing-what-and-where monthly newsletter. Crews has been away from the area for several years and returned three weeks ago.
“I gotta get a job first, but then I’ll be back (in theater),” Crews said.
“Dracula” plays through Sept. 25 at the Largo Cultural Center. Tickets are $17, $11 for students, and $15.50 for groups. Call the box office at 587-6793 or go online to www.largoarts.com.