Sharp script, performances at Planet Ant

By |2007-10-11T09:00:00-04:00October 11th, 2007|Entertainment|

Since its initial publication in 1897, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” has served as the template upon which most modern-day vampire stories have been built. But what if the novel was based on a set of real diaries written by Dr. John Seward – and only the names were changed to protect the innocent?
That’s the premise behind local playwright Joseph Zettelmaier’s latest work, “Dr. Seward’s Dracula” that had its world premiere this past Friday at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre. And as expected, the young author’s continued growth as a wordsmith has added yet another well-crafted script to his already impressive repertoire.
As the lights go up, Dr. Jack Seward (played by Rob J. McFadyen) is about to inject himself with morphine, supposedly to ease the pain from a puncture wound suffered six months earlier. But he’s stopped – first by Emily Covington (Sarah Korson), the deceased love of his life, who thumbs through the last of his journals and questions a word he doesn’t remember writing, and then by a visitor, Irish playwright Bram Stoker (Lee Stille).
The journals detail the horrors Jack experienced battling the evil vampire, and Stoker – who believes every word – plans to write a book based on them.
But after the brutal killings start again, Inspector Louis Carlysle (Keith Kalinowski) begins to doubt Jack’s story. And when a strange visitor (Jacob Hodgson) comes to Jack in the dark of night to boast of his killings – and the Inspector can find no proof – Jack becomes the prime suspect. Could a morphine-addled Jack be the real killer? Does Dracula really exist? Or is there another explanation that hasn’t been considered?
An adjunct professor of dramatic composition at Eastern Michigan University, Zettelmaier – whose “All Childish Things” was nominated last year for a prestigious playwriting award by the American Theatre Critics Association – has earned a well-deserved reputation for composing lyrical and fully believable dialogue. Now, Zettelmaier adds yet another skill to his bag of tricks: the carefully-constructed murder mystery – slash – horror story in which every clue to the tale’s resolution is cleverly hidden in plain site. (And trust me: There are few throw-away lines in this clever script.)
Zettelmaier’s work is ably enhanced by director Shannon Ferrante who focuses her attention on developing the characters and their many emotional and physical beats. And those moments are everywhere. (The interactions between the inspector and Stoker are especially well-played, as is the fight between Jack and his nighttime visitor.)
But it’s McFadyen’s well thought-out and finely executed performance as Jack where both the director and actor shine. It’s a demanding role to be sure, but from the hawkish stares to the many physical and emotional changes the actor must work through, every nuance clearly tells a story.
One plot device does merit debate, however: If Emily is indeed a figment of Jack’s drug-influenced imagination, why is she still around – and singing a lullaby to him – after he falls asleep? Or after he’s off the morphine? (Or is Zettelmaier, a self-admitted “Halloweeny,” simply serving up a good old-fashioned ghost story?)

‘Dr. Seward’s Dracula’
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Thu.-Sun., through Nov. 3. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-365-4948 or

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