Are you down for the Count?

Posted Oct. 16, 2008, at 7:47 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:58 a.m.

According to legend, Max Schreck, the star of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1921 film “Nosferatu,” was so convincing in his role that many people thought that he actually was a vampire. The 2000 film “Shadow of the Vampire” documented that Hollywood tall tale, which, of course, is not true. Be that as it may — go see the Grand Player’s production of “Dracula,” premiering tonight at the Grand Theatre in Ellsworth, and you might understand why people would have thought such a thing when they first saw the movie.

Trevor Senter, a 21-year-old New England School of Communications student who plays the immortal title character, inhabits Dracula’s pale skin like he was born to play the role. He plays it a little too perfectly. Like you might want to watch your neck, or put a couple cloves of garlic in your pocket if you plan to hang out with him.

“I love vampires, absolutely,” said Senter. “They’re the outcasts. They have their motives, but they’re driven by love. In some ways I guess I identify, I think.”

Ben Layman, who has helmed productions of everything from “Grease to “Steel Magnolias,” directs the Grand’s “Dracula.” He too finds vampires fascinating — and has used the humanity of what’s an otherwise otherworldly character to amp up the drama of his show.

“The element of the unknown strikes a chord with people, but there’s also the human element to it,” he said. “He’s totally foreign to us, and yet he’s also got very complex human motivations. It really deepens the story.”

Layman jumped on the opportunity to direct “Dracula” — especially during Halloween, his favorite holiday.

“Other than Christmas, it was the big holiday at my house. My mom was always obsessed with it. It’s always been a big deal for me,” he said. “I definitely wanted to make this show as creepy as possible. I think we’ve achieved that.

Cue the fog machines and the sound effects; enter the wild, lunatic ravings of the madman Renfield (played by Steve Gormley), and the writhing, possessed sexuality of the Dracula victim Lucy (Jessie Riley). Listen! Children of the night! What beautiful music they make!

“I love the atmosphere of the story. I tried to put what’s been in my head for 15 years on stage,” said Layman. “And even though people are very familiar with the story, I think we’ve kept it fresh by casting people atypically. Our Renfield is a big, scary guy, and our Mina [Willow Yerxa] is kind of a progressive, modern girl. It’s not exactly the typical characters. It’s a different mix.”

This production is Senter’s first full-on theatrical production. Other than a few shows in high school, he has never done theater before; he saw a listing for “Dracula” auditions in the newspaper, and knew that he wanted to try out for the part. His relative inexperience in acting lends a kind of naturalness to his performance, as does his other creative outlet — playing guitar and singing in his rock band, Rebel Angel.

“I just wanted to get the chance to be Dracula. The way I see it, he is uncomfortable in his body. He’s not comfortable in his skin. In reality he’s an animal, or a red mist or something,” said Senter. “That’s my interpretation of it, and I try to convey that with the accent and the way I move.”

“There’s something very subtle about what Trevor is doing,” said Layman. “His voice is just spot on. It’s not cheesy or cliched — it’s totally creepy.”

Layman picked an adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel by playwright Steven Ditze, out of countless other stage adaptations of varying levels of quality.

“I like it because it keeps the movement and excitement of the book, which is hard since the book is comprised mostly of letters and journals,” he said. “It definitely ramps up the action. There’s a lot more of Dracula in it, too. You learn a lot about him.”

For Senter, it’s all about the creepy factor. He’s not sure if he’s been bitten — no pun intended — by the acting bug just yet, but at least while he’s playing the Count he’s a formidable talent.

“I’m really just into the story, and the character, even though it’s really interesting to watch the other actors, and to watch Ben direct,” he said. “But it’s all about Dracula. That’s what makes it fun for me.”

“Dracula” plays at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18, and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, and at midnight on Halloween night. Tickets are $10 at the Grand box office. For more, visit www.grandonline.org.

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