Arts and Culture

Actors Theatre of Louisville’s “Dracula” tradition is back this month with in-person performances, but audiences can expect a different kind of show this year. 

The full title is key: “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy.” It opens Friday and runs through Sept. 18 at the Bingham Theatre in downtown Louisville. 

The adaptation is based loosely on Bram Stoker’s famous novel, turned on its head by actor and playwright Kate Hamill, who has a history of “doing highly theatrical, feminist, female-centered adaptations of classics.”

Hamill said she was interested in “Dracula” because a number of previous adaptations she had encountered, whether in film, on the stage or in a book, are “very male-gaze focused.”

“Vampires are predators, and they’re predators who are often upheld as sort of sexy and interesting and captivating,” Hamill said. “And I thought, ‘Okay, well, who are the predators in our society, who are often treated as the protagonist or someone who is captivating or irresistible or powerful, and for me, it became a meditation on toxic masculinity.”

The Louisville production, directed by Jennifer Pennington, is the show’s regional premiere – Hamill’s “Dracula” had only one other performance, at Classic Stage Company in New York City shortly before pandemic-related shutdowns began. 

Actors Theatre’s presentation of “Dracula” has evolved over the years to keep present-day audiences connecting with the work. Artistic executive director Robert Barry Fleming said Hamill’s adaptation falls in step with that evolution. 

“The intersecting conflicts and polarization like the opportunities for healing and reckoning with our country’s gender, culture, and class wars is piercing our consciousness in such an undeniable way,” he wrote, in part, in an email to WFPL News. “From the #MeToo to the BLM movements so keenly seen, felt and heard, I couldn’t imagine a better salve for the soul than a mixed-genre bending take that allows us to fearlessly and joyfully explore those themes through hearty laughter, thrills that give us chills, and a lot of heart.”

Hamill re-imagined the work’s most iconic characters, including Renfield, who, in this adaptation is played by a woman, “which has a lot to do with how we treat, quote unquote, ‘insanity’ or allowed behavior in women throughout the ages.”

This Dracula isn’t pale-skinned, nor is he allergic to the sun or walking around with menacing fangs in his mouth. He’s charming, “much more a regular dude.” 

“Many predators and abusers are totally charming in their normal life,” Hamill said. “So I’m interested in a Dracula who’s a bit more like that.”

Hamill wrote the female protagonists in the play to have more agency, like Mina, who is recently married and pregnant. 

“We tend to infantilize pregnant women and be like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that,’” Hamill said. “And Mina is someone who has to take things into her own hands and become more self-actualized, with the sort of mentorship of Doctor Van Helsing, because it’s integral to her survival.”

She also highlighted societal issues around power, who holds power and how it can be weaponized.

“Very few of us are really scared of a bat creature that sucks our blood in the middle of the night, but we are afraid of people, or should be afraid of people, who drain us of our power and lifeforce and consume us,” Hamill said. 

But it’s not all horror. Hamill used humor in the play to drive her points home – it is a revenge fantasy after all.

“You can be exploring really deep, dark questions, and also have a huge amount of fun along the way,” she said.

Disclosure: Actors Theatre of Louisville is among the financial supporters of Louisville Public Media.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.