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Centreville's 'Dracula' Is Timely and Original

Vampires come out at night, so it's fitting that Centreville High's play, "Dracula," will be performed Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7:30 p.m. (tickets are $3 at the door) — and just two days before Halloween.

However, it will also make a rare daytime appearance Friday, Oct. 31, at 9 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency in the Reston Town Center. Centreville will perform it then during the Virginia Theatre Association (VTA) competition.

Forty high schools are competing, with the four finalists vying again on Nov. 2. The grand champion will then perform at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in March when high schools from 12 states will compete for the national championship.

Senior Mike Mohyla, 17, is in the title role, and says Centreville's version of this classic tale is both special and original. Said Mohyla: "I think it'll have a profound effect on the audience and change their entire way of thinking about this story."

"THE AUDIENCE will find it different from other presentations of 'Dracula,'" added Paige Williams, 16, who portrays a professor in the play. "It looks at him in a deeper way than most 'Draculas' do."

Dracula is a count in Transylvania in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and the play's mystery surrounds him. He's in his late 60s, retired, extremely rich and busy purchasing land in London. He's quite honorable, likes to receive warm welcomes and is formal in manner.

Still, said Mohyla, "He's definitely to be feared because he keeps a shroud of mystery around him and doesn't let everyone know what he's after." And since it's a vampire story, said Mohyla, he has to be careful not to overact and, instead, must walk a fine line between being evil and being over-the-top.

"It's a lot of fun — a good challenge," he said. "It's different than anything else I've ever done so it makes me stretch my acting abilities. And I like having that mysterious air — it makes my character more interesting."

Senior Stephanie Benner, 17, plays a maiden named Mina. Although she's engaged to businessman Jonathan Harker, Dracula wants her for himself. "She's innocent and well-brought-up, proper and sweet — a good person," said Benner. "I love this role; I usually play the bad girl, so this is a change. And since she's similar to my personality, I get to put more of myself into the part."

SHE SAID THE audience has a real treat in store because "they'll be thinking the play is only about Halloween — vampire stuff — but it's a storyline with actual people. And it's not from Dracula's perspective, but from Renfield's — a mental patient."

In the role of Mina's best friend Lucy is senior Nicole Claussen, 17, and her room is one of the play's three main sets (the others are the insane asylum and Dracula's castle). She's also the lover of Dr. Seward, who heads the asylum.

Describing her character, Claussen said, "I like attention; I'm boy-crazy, and I like the fact that both Dr. Seward and Dracula like me. And I'm the direct opposite of Mina — forward, friendly and outgoing." However, she said, Lucy's really difficult to play.

"In the beginning, I'm a person and, later, I become a vampire," she explained. "I just totally change character from beginning to end."

Junior Tyler Van Houten, 16, plays Harker. "I'm a curt businessman who's thrown into the world of the occult without warning," he said. "And as much as I'd like to be stable, I'm overwhelmed with the fear that Dracula and Transylvania inspire."

But it's a fun and challenging part — "a rite of passage, actually," he said. "Most of the time, Harker's played as an invisible character, and I didn't want to be a non-entity," said Van Houten. "But because of this script, I'm more involved in the scenes." He said the hardest part is getting the fear just right — not over- or underplaying it, but making it realistic.

AS FOR THE PLAY, he believes the audience will "eat it up and leave the theater in love with the show. It's really fabulous watching the actors attach themselves to their characters, both emotionally and physically. And if you're gonna do 'Dracula,' you might as well do it on Halloween."

Paige Williams, also a junior, portrays Professor Van Helsing, skilled in natural and unnatural sciences. "She's well-versed in both folklore and modern medicine," said Williams. "And she aids the others in finding whoever is causing havoc — unexplained deaths, attacks and sicknesses — in Transylvania and in London."

In Centreville's production, this character is Caribbean and is strong and well-respected. But even though she's working on the side of good, said Williams, "She still carries around with her this atmosphere of the mysterious. She's interesting and fun to play because she's almost feared for her knowledge, but also needed by the rest of the cast."

Playing Renfield is senior Timothy Bartlett, 17. He's in his 40s and is in the insane asylum. "He's a madman whose mind is starting to be crushed by Dracula," said Bartlett. "The rest of the cast is focused on him — he ties them all together. Dracula sees through Renfield's eyes so, whatever Renfield sees, Dracula sees. He wants to have eternal life, and his idea of how to get that is by drinking the blood of other living things."

BARTLETT SAID it's tough finding a balance between his character's fear and anger: "He wants to warn everybody that Dracula is evil; but when they don't understand him, he gets frustrated." But Bartlett likes the role because "the depth of the character is amazing. Trying to get into the mind of a madman is an intriguing task." He also believes the play will do great at the VTA competition because "there's depth, suspense and mystery — and everything about it will capture the audience."

Junior Ben Myers, 16, co-wrote the play with Centreville Drama Director Mark Rogers. They wanted a play that would "really grab the judges," said Myers, "so we thought, 'Why not adapt Bram Stoker's Dracula?' I wrote a script and we incorporated scenes that [Rogers] wrote. It was a really neat opportunity to be able to adapt a classic piece of literature from a 400-page book to a 35-minute, one-act play."

Senior Mike Lamberti, 18, portrays Dr. Seward, head of the asylum. "I'm obsessed with Lucy, and I'm trying to figure out what's going on in Renfield's mind so I can treat him," he explained. "Is he harmless or a danger to society? I'm also a caring, affectionate guy who shows his emotions, both angry and sincere."

Rogers said his actors are doing a great job. "We have a tendency to laugh at stories of vampires," he said. "But I'm telling them to approach it as a serious drama — as if vampires really do exist — to give it the scary, mysterious feel it needs. I told them, 'I don't want the audience laughing — I want them screaming.'"