London in the fogs of the late Victorian era, a dark mansion, a distinguished archeologist, an evil sorceress, a jewel with an ancient curse, ladies in distress – even the possibility of reanimating an Egyptian mummy.
These are all evocative ingredients of White Rock Players Club’s latest Halloween-ready treat, the supernatural period chiller Who Walks In The Dark (Coast Capital Playhouse, Oct. 10-27).
And director Paul Kloegman (noted for helming such acclaimed local productions as Humble Boy and Ladies of the Camellias) promises all the requisite scenery-chewing theatrics, eerie atmosphere, special effects and dramatic twists that fans look for in such a vintage horror melodrama.
Who Walks In The Dark, adapted for the stage by prolific late playwright Tim Kelly, also boasts an unmatched provenance – the story comes from a novel written by Bram Stoker, famed creator of Dracula.
In The Jewel of Seven Stars, first published in 1903, Stoker anticipated The Mummy by close to 30 years, bringing a frisson of fear to a long-standing public fascination with the unearthed artifacts of ancient Egypt.
So dark was Stoker’s original version of the novel that he was persuaded to revise it for a second edition in 1912 – just prior to his death – to provide a happier ending.
“The play is somewhere in-between the two versions,” said Kloegman, also a respected actor in Lower Mainland amateur and professional theatre (last seen at Coast Capital as Major Metcalf in Peninsula Productions’ successful The Mousetrap, he will soon play a featured double role for director Dean Paul Gibson in Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century comedy of manners She Stoops To Conquer, Oct. 18 – Nov. 18 at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre).
Who Walks In The Dark is set in 1898 at Karnak House, London, home of archeologist Sir Abel Trelawney (Ken Fynn), who unwittingly excavated the Egyptian tomb of an evil sorceress.
As often happens in such cases, the fearful curse he has unleashed also extends to his household, including daughters Margaret (Alexandra Wilson) and Judith (Krystle Hadlow), his housekeeper (Deborah Spitz), Egyptian servant Suleiman (Ryan Johnston) and his young colleague Christopher Ross (Keaton Mazurek).
As in all such tales, someone must uphold the sober cause of science – in this case, Sir Abel’s physician Doctor Winchester (David Lloyd Austin), while mandatory comedy relief is supplied by Romanian thief Tessie (Jane Mantle), and a police sergeant overly impressed by the methods of Sherlock Holmes (Bryce Mills).
The production also features an unusual role for Tessa Milne, a student of drama instructor Stan Engstrom at Elgin Park Secondary – although to reveal more would be a ‘spoiler.’
“This is one where I can get actors to play right over the top, without it being too much,” said Kloegman, adding that, as in other melodramas, like John Balderston’s 1927 adaptation of Dracula, there’s a certain intensity required to maintain the audience’s “suspension of disbelief” through some extraordinary plot twists.
“At the same time, they’re playing it dead straight,” he said.
“That’s where a lot of the fun comes in.”
Having experienced community theatre reliables in the cast (like Spitz, his wife in real life; Mantle, a former co-star; and Austin, also a veteran director) helps a great deal in establishing the atmosphere, he said.
But Kloegman said he values the energy of such younger players as Johnston, Hadlow, Mazurek and Wilson (the latter was also seen to advantage in Ladies of the Camellias).
There’s also a suspicion of a romantic triangle in the plot, in which the youngest daughter (Hadlow) is ostensibly engaged to Christopher (Mazurek).
“It’s quite obvious that Margaret has a thing for him as well – she’s quite a good character,” said Kloegman.
Having the right touch in the central role of the archeologist is also key to establishing atmosphere, Kloegman said.
“Ken’s doing a very nice job as Sir Abel, who’s going a bit nutty as a result of the curse – he’s got all sorts of little tremors and lots of ups and downs,” he said.
“He’s not a well man.”
Kloegman said he was attracted to the project by the atmospheric potential of the script – which supplies enough challenges to keep set designer Andrea Olund, costume designer Laura Mackenzie and lighting designer Matt Vondette on their toes.
“The more I read it, the more I realized the possibilities of enhancing it with neat special effects, creepy sound and lighting effects and the music I’ve chosen is very atmospheric,” Kloegman said.
Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. at the theatre (1532 Johnston Rd.), with a 2:30 p.m. matinee Oct. 21.
For tickets ($18) and information, call 604-536-7535, or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca