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STAGE REVIEW

A ‘Dracula’ where the women fight back

Kate Hamill’s play filters the vampire tale through a feminist lens

Maria Hendricks as Dr. Van Helsing in "Dracula (A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really)" at the Umbrella Stage Company.Gillian Mariner Gordon

CONCORD — Hazardous work, theater reviewing.

You can be sitting there in the front row, innocently scribbling down an observation or two, when suddenly your notebook is splattered with blood. And then, a couple of minutes later, here comes another shower of blood droplets to stain your pages and your precious insights.

That happened to me at Thursday night’s performance of Kate Hamill’s “Dracula (A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really)” at the Umbrella Arts Center. Talk about breaking the fourth wall. Immersive theater has seldom felt so . . . immersive.

It wasn’t real blood, of course. The spurting liquid — a byproduct of a climactic battle between the persistently undead Count Dracula (Dustin Teuber) and his foes, who are determined to end his reign of terror once and for all — more closely resembled Hawaiian Punch.

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And I rather enjoyed the splash-zone experience, much as I rather enjoyed Michelle Aguillon’s deliberately over-the-top production, even though playwright Hamill’s larger ambitions for “Dracula” yield only mixed results.

From the publication of Stoker’s gothic novel in 1897 to F.W. Murnau’s silent film “Nosferatu” (1922) to countless dramatizations on screen and stage since then, depictions of the Dracula story have overwhelmingly been told from the perspective of men.

So playwright Hamill is more than justified in thinking it’s high time the tale of the sanguinary Count was filtered through a feminist, #MeToo lens. Dracula, after all, is the ultimate sexual predator.

More broadly, Hamill wants us to think about the extent to which a monster resides in all of us — especially men — that can emerge at any moment. And heaven knows there are headlines aplenty that substantiate that view. “Dracula” has a few things to say about the gender power imbalance, in the 19th century and today, that dictate who has autonomy and who does not. So by all means, drive a stake through the heart of the patriarchy.

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Still, those points could be made more effectively with characterizations and dialogue that are less on-the-nose, less intent on hitting the audience over the head, than we too often find in this “Dracula.”

As usual with Hamill, an actress who made her name as a dramatist with theatrical adaptations of literary works like “Sense and Sensibility," comic elements are liberally sprinkled throughout “Dracula." The word “Shush," invoked several times throughout the play, is deployed to hilarious effect near the end.

But the production works best when it dives into the darkness, embracing the play’s elements of straight-up horror. With blood-curdling screams, pounding noises, and sudden lighting shifts — not to mention that whole neck-biting thing — Aguillon smartly uses the tight confines of the Black Box theater at the Umbrella Arts Center to intensify the atmosphere of dread.

Audience members are grouped on both sides of a gray platform, so near to the action (I was seated just a few feet from the stage) that we get vividly close-up views of the villainous, hungry, or fearful expressions on the faces of the actors.

The cast is a generally capable one. Teuber conjures a suitable combination of charm, menace, and command as Dracula. The Count meets his match in a female (rather than the usual male) Dr. Van Helsing, a swaggering, relentless vampire hunter. Played to the hilt by Maria Hendricks in a cowboy hat and sharply pointed sticks strung across her chest like a bandolero, this Van Helsing is intent on rallying the other women to stand up to Dracula and any other male who tries to push them around.

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Another standout is Sara Jones as madwoman Renfield, so fanatically devoted to Dracula that she scrawls “Our Father” in white chalk on the wall of her asylum cell — one of the play’s nods toward religious allegory (Dracula as an uncaring God, indifferent to the worshipers who are literally willing to give their lives to him). But again, “Dracula” doesn’t reach the metaphysical heights it’s straining for.

Dominic Carter does his best with the character of Dr. George Seward, the head physician of the asylum, though Seward is a caricature of male pomposity, an endlessly mansplaining straw man set up only to be knocked down. Seward is engaged to Lucy Westenra (Gabrielle Hatcher), who becomes a target, then a victim, of Dracula.

Also drawn into the vampire’s sights are his stiffly formal estate agent, Jonathan Harker (Joseph Jude), whom Dracula plans to task with expanding his territory from Transylvania to a new “hunting ground” in London, and Harker’s pregnant wife, Mina (Lisa San Pascual). The fate of Mina, the most innocent figure onstage, is very much left up in the air.

So if you’re in the mood for a little seasonal spookiness, by all means check out this “Dracula." But if you plan to sit in the front row, maybe think about wearing a poncho.

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DRACULA (A FEMINIST REVENGE FANTASY, REALLY)

Play by Kate Hamill. Based on the novel by Bram Stoker. Directed by Michelle Aguillon. Presented by The Umbrella Stage Company, Concord. At The Umbrella Arts Center Black Box. Through Oct. 23. $20-$45. 978-371-0820 ext. 209, TheUmbrellaArts.org/Dracula. (As of Tuesday, remaining performances were sold out. A marketing representative said cancellations might be a possibility, freeing up tickets.)


Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.