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Dracula: An Act of Destruction at PFW Runs Through April 29

Like many productions this theatre season, Purdue Fort Wayne’s Dracula: An Act of Destruction was originally set to be staged two years ago. But unlike other shows, the delay and the reason for it has actually helped in the evolution of the piece. But the path to the show, which opened last weekend and continues through this weekend, actually began long before COVID was on the horizon and is actually part two of an eventual trilogy. Having started with Frankenstein: An Act of Creation, Jeff Casazza, professor of theatre at Purdue Fort Wayne, conceived and directed Frankenstein and had already planned on Dracula being part of the trilogy.

“When I started it, I had intended that it would be a trilogy,” Casazza said. “I had thought Dracula: An Act of Destruction would be the final part of that trilogy, but I decided that I didn’t want to end it with destruction. I wanted a more uplifting final part so I moved Dracula up to the second of the trilogy.”

As originally planned, Dracula was to premiere in April 2020. As such the process for bringing it to the stage began well before that.

“We started working on it in 2019 and worked for four months with a group of artists – mostly students – and designers to prepare for the show. I had started to put together the script from working with the students on what we wanted to include in December. We had probably 40 to 50 hours of material at that point. We lost a couple people from that fall to the spring semester due to graduation so we did a bit of recasting. We had one rehearsal in March before going on hiatus for what turned out to be two years. We didn’t know then it would be two years. We moved it from April to Halloween 2020, the we postponed it again to April 2021, but that wasn’t possible either. So now here we are in April 2022.”

Of course many more students were gone by this time, and Casazza notes that students who were freshmen when they began the process, one which was very inclusive to their talents, are preparing to graduate. Alums have also returned to complete their project. Of course, Casazza’s work conceiving of and directing these works is more than creating a piece of entertainment. He is also in the business of educating students, and bringing them into the creative process was vital to what he was accomplishing with the trilogy. Along the way, he has developed a unique technique for bringing the story to life.

“Usually preparing for a play begins with a table read, but in my work with Steppenwolf and Indiana Repertory Theatre, I found that after the first weeks of table read, there was a disconnect between what was happening at the table read not showing up on the stage.”

His solution has been a physical table read – physical dramaturgy – which allows a more active process for his student actors, one which has clearly worked in this production. Last Sunday’s matinee was a tour de force, tackling the threat of Dracula as both an individual dilemma and a global one, and the story has taken on a deeper meaning during the two-year delay.

“I began with Dracula as source material, but to discuss it as an Act of Destruction, I began looking at what is destructive in our society. When I was writing and adapting Antigone a few years ago, I thought it looked a lot like American politics. There’s a lot of incivility in America right now, and I found that while writing Dracula too. And it’s particularly interesting that this show was postponed by a virus since I had already been looking at Dracula, which is about the spreading of a blood virus, and thinking about AIDS and all those things that spread like the vampirism does in Dracula. And I was looking at the virus of hate in this country. And then in these two years, we have a pandemic, and there’s been so much vitriol, so much ‘my way or the highway,’ that the themes in Dracula are even more timely now.”

The atmospheric design of sound and lighting beautifully underscore the themes of the story which is brilliantly enacted by the cast, The enigmatic Dracula can vanish for several scenes at a time, but his presence is always felt. And when he appears, it’s breathtaking for the characters and the audience. The constant pulse of a heartbeat, which continues even through the intermission, provides a tether to the show even as the lights come up, and the final scene, “Coda,” is unforgettable theatre.

Casazza is already looking ahead to the final installment of this trilogy, a production which will be announced by Purdue Fort Wayne’s Department of Theatre in the future.

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