A chilling season: What theater reviewers say about 2 scary plays and a comedy

What did our reviewers think of shows new to or still on Cape Cod stages this week and why?

Here's a look at new productions of "Dracula" at Chatham Drama Guild and "Wait Until Dark" at Cotuit Center for the Arts, and the final weekend of "The Sunshine Boys" by Eventide Theatre Company.

‘Dracula’

By Sue Mellen

Adapted for the stage: by Bragan Thomas; directed by Anna Marie Johansen, presented by the Chatham Drama Guild

John Hanright, left, as Jonathan Harker and Bragan Thomas as vampire Dracula in the premiere of Thomas' adaptation of "Dracula" at Chatham Drama Guild.
John Hanright, left, as Jonathan Harker and Bragan Thomas as vampire Dracula in the premiere of Thomas' adaptation of "Dracula" at Chatham Drama Guild.

What it's about: We’re approaching the season of witches, werewolves and ghostly ghouls, so it must be time for a visit from the Count of Transylvania himself, along with his forever faithful servant Renfield. This version of the “Dracula” story begins far from the Carpathian Mountains in the library of an estate in North Yorkshire, England. It’s 1931 and life is light and lovely for Lucy (Rachel Walman), the young mistress of the estate, whose greatest concern is deciding which of her many suitors to marry. (At the top of her list is fiancé Arthur, played by Devin Massarky.) And life is just as carefree for her cousin Mina (Emily Entwisle) and her beau Jonathan (John Hanright), who happens to be a solicitor (lawyer). Also on the scene is Dr. Jack Seward (Mark Roderick), a physician who is experimenting with the reanimation of flesh at the local insane asylum. (Of course he is!)

But all is not well in the venerable halls of Whitby House. For one thing, Lucy’s mother, Lady Mary (Amanda Gordon), is hearing something scratch at her bedroom window and seeing “dark eyes from the other side of the mirror.” (Can the count be far behind?) Sure enough, Renfield (Bob Shire) shows up to cart Jonathan off to Transylvania to get Drac’s signature (in blood no doubt) on the bottom line of a contract to buy an abbey in merry old England. Cut to Castle Dracula, where the Lord of the Vampires (Bragan Thomas) greets Jonathan. As the count plies his visitor with a super-deluxe wine from the Drac family cellars, we hear about the soon-inebriated traveler’s journey. When Drac says he is excited about moving to London where there are “so many healthy people with fine blood,” we know it can’t be long before Jonathan is joining the count in quaffing another bright-red beverage.

See it or not: A visit with a vampire is often just the ticket in the season of All Hallow’s Eve. But this version sometimes suffers from an identity problem. At certain points on Thursday’s opening night, the action and dialogue under Johansen’s direction were so melodramatic that there was laughter in the audience, as it appeared the play was a spoof. Then it became clear that no humor was intended. Still, Thomas succeeds in hitting the right, creepy note as Bram Stoker’s beast, often keeping the audience engaged.

Highlight of the show: The scene in Hotel Transylvania may be the best in the show. Hanright feigns drunkenness very effectively and there is undeniable tension and chemistry between him and Thomas. When Jonathan joins Team Drac just before intermission, it’s clear he and his coach will be seeking new recruits in Act II.

Interesting fact: Bela Lugosi was the first to play a film version of Count Dracula, in 1931. Other actors who followed his lead include Christopher Lee and Frank Langella.

Worth noting: The final scene is set in the subterranean catacombs of the London-based abbey the count owns at that point. Set designers Johansen and Roderick have created an interesting setting here, complete with ancient stone walls and a thick mist.

One more thing: There are some pretty graphic moments as actors feign blood- sucking. So this is probably not the best Halloween show for youngsters.

If you go: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23, 25, 29 and 30, and Oct. 1, 2, 6, 9, 13, 14 and 16 at Chatham Drama Guild, 134 Crowell Road; tickets: $25 cabaret seating, $22 regular seating; 508-945-0510, http://www.chatdramaguild.org/

‘Wait Until Dark’

By Shannon Goheen

Anna Botsford, right, stars as a blind woman threatened by intruders, including Elliott Sicard in "Wait Until Dark" at Cotuit Center for the Arts.
Anna Botsford, right, stars as a blind woman threatened by intruders, including Elliott Sicard in "Wait Until Dark" at Cotuit Center for the Arts.

Written by: Frederick Knott, directed by Erin Trainor; presented by Cotuit Center for the Arts

What it’s about: A housewife in Greenwich Village has been blinded by an accident in her recent past. She’s learning how to navigate the world beyond her familiar, cramped apartment when she is visited by three potentially murderous criminals who are looking to make big money. She’s the key to their success because she, through no fault of her own, is in possession of a doll filled with heroin. The three are intent on mayhem and a blind woman alone in a basement apartment is an easy mark — or so they think! Instead, her hyper-focused attention to detail and intimate knowledge of her surroundings turns the action upside-down.

See it or not? Controlled fear can be fun, and this play dishes a dollop at the time of year when we expect this type of entertainment. On opening night, an attendee was heard saying to her friends, “I’m afraid to go to sleep tonight!” Elliott Sicard makes villain Harry Roat Jr. especially creepy, just the kind of super-suave guy no woman in her right mind wants to meet, whether in a dark alley or in full sunlight. Sicard brings a chill to every scene he’s in.

Highlight of the show: Anna Botsford as the blind and resourceful Susy Hendrix is riveting. Her portrayal of a dependent woman who uncovers a wellspring of courage is fascinating to watch from beginning to end. Pretending to be blind can’t be easy, yet Botsford stays in character for the duration. She yells and screams frequently, which is jarring but necessary for her character’s development — and that alone is admirable beyond her effectively managing to appear blind. Hers is a physically and probably emotionally challenging role and she handles it beautifully.

Fun fact: “Wait Until Dark” has an impressive pedigree. The show was on Broadway in 1966 with actress Lee Remick as Susy, then the story was turned into a film in 1967 starring Audrey Hepburn, and some experts have ranked it among the scariest movies of all time. British playwright and screenwriter Knott was known for deft writing of complex criminal plots, including “Dial M For Murder,” a play that Alfred Hitchcock turned into an iconic film.

Worth noting: On Thursday’s opening night, there were frequent dropped lines and vocal fumblings, but fortunately, the characters are well-cast and believable, so those shortcomings didn’t sink the action. This cast largely does an admirable job, and will doubtless improve, with the complicated Act 1 plot set-up that takes clarity and a lot of dialogue to convey without a mix-up that can muddle the story.

One more thing: “Wait Until Dark” feels like a big play packed into a small space. Because of the layout of Cotuit’s tiny Black Box theater, some of the key action can only be seen by a few audience members while others listen and imagine. Regardless of the set arrangement, there’s still a lot to like with this play, and it’s always more fun to be creeped out with others!

If you go: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 9 at Cotuit Center for the Art’s Morton and Vivian Sigel Black Box Theater, 4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28); $ 25/$20 for members; 508-428-0669 or https://artsonthecape.org/.

‘The Sunshine Boys’

By Barbara Clark

Written by: Neil Simon; directed by Ruthe Lew; performed by Eventide Theatre Company.

Cleo Zani, left, and Barry Lew hilariously spar with words and actions as bickering former vaudeville partners in Eventide Theatre Company's production of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys."
Cleo Zani, left, and Barry Lew hilariously spar with words and actions as bickering former vaudeville partners in Eventide Theatre Company's production of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys."

What it’s about: This 1972 homage to the world of vaudeville has a time-honored plot — it’s the old actors-not-speaking-to-each-other comic routine, sparked with vintage Neil Simon dialogue. Aging actors Al Lewis (Cleo Zani) and Willie Clark (Barry Lew) have baggage — a never-healed split in their longtime vaudeville partnership that goes way back for the old-time duo. Now, Lewis is a decade retired, while Clark is still struggling to find work, though his memory is slowly deserting him. Ben, Willie’s nephew and long-suffering agent (Ari Lew), has a one-show reunion in the works for the two old masters, if only they can stop trading insults. And therein lies the tale, as the frustrated Ben tries his best to hold the game together.

See it or not: See it for the dazzling performances of Cleo Zani and Barry Lew, who perfectly embody their roles as fading former partners, jumping on every stage moment as the consummate professionals they are. They’re more than just “containers” for Simon’s marvelous one-liners. To the character of Al, Zani brings an old man’s wistful consciousness of his aging self; you can almost watch him looking inward in a comic/sad way at just what he’s like as an old man. Barry Lew’s crotchety but lovable Willie calls out for affection even while zealously batting it away at every turn.

Highlights: There are countless moments to savor, among them a priceless scene where the actors try to arrange the chairs and table for rehearsal, neither wanting the other to prevail. And there’s a hilarious, slapstick vaudeville set piece featuring outlandish wigs and a cartoon-worthy fantasy nurse straight out of the comic strips, played to the hilt by Cara Gerardi.

In Providence and Boston: Triumphant 'Tina': Dazzling star makes national tour of Broadway's Turner musical worth the love

nteresting fact: Simon’s fictional team of Lewis and Clark looked back at a couple of real-life vaudeville teams from the early 20th century: Smith and Dale, who remained lifelong friends throughout their partnership, and the stage duo of Gallagher and Shean, who bickered constantly both on and off stage.

Worth noting: The evening is really a double look-back: Eventide’s production of Simon’s 1972 comedy is full of the hallmarks and humorous touchstones of the ‘70s era, which in turn frames an affectionate reprise of the long-gone days of vaudeville.

One more thing: “Sunshine Boys” turns out to be a family affair of sorts: Ruthe Lew, the director of this finely tuned production, is the wife of Barry Lew, and Ari Lew is their son. All are well-known figures on the Cape Cod theater scene.

If you go: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 25. (Sept. 18 performance sold out); Gertrude Lawrence Stage at Dennis Union Church, 713 Main St.; $31; 508-233-2148, https://www.eventidearts.org/

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod theater reviewers' thoughts on 2 scary plays and a comedy