Megan Wells, a professional storyteller, presented Act I of Bram Stoker’s masterpiece “Dracula” during the virtual Levy Lecture on Oct. 26. More than 200 attendees were riveted to their screens as Wells told the suspenseful tale, embodying all of the major characters through her voice, facial expressions and body language.
Wells’ dramatic flair captured the agony and fear of Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina Murray, as well as the sinister schemes of Jonathan’s client, Count Dracula. Using language from the 1897 novel combined with her own interpretation of the plot, Wells told a tale that was terrifying. She followed the unvarnished plot of Stoker’s novel, which was inspired by folkloric influences and societal trends in 1890s England.
The audience was not left wanting at the conclusion of Act I. Wells summarized the rest of the novel while emphasizing its true themes: friendship, love, collaboration and working toward one common goal. The sexualized cinematic versions produced by Hollywood do not adhere to the novel’s intent.
According to Wells, in a post-performance discussion, the non-vampire women who are major characters in “Dracula,” the aforementioned Mina Murray and her friend, Lucy Westenra, were not romantically interested in the Count and did not willingly submit to his attacks while in Whitby, England. To portray them as temptresses is demeaning and not as the author intended.
Wells said she believes a compelling argument may be made that Mina is the unsung hero of the story. It is Mina who notes in her journal the arrival in Whitby of a ship, devoid of a crew – all of whom are missing save the poor captain, found lashed to the helm – and a large, black dog. It is Mina who notes the prearranged disposition of 50 rectangular boxes filled with Transylvania soil taken from the ship, a clue that will prove helpful as Dracula’s attacks intensify. It is Mina who hurriedly travels to Budapest to nurse Jonathan back to health after he escapes from the Count’s Transylvania castle, suffered amnesia and required hospitalization.
A group of Mina and Jonathan’s friends gather together to plan how to protect vulnerable potential victims such as Lucy and Mina, and how to kill Dracula. Lucy, unfortunately, is killed by Dracula and Mina is attacked (bitten) by him. Mina knows that after being attacked by Dracula, she is doomed to become a vampire at her death unless Dracula can be killed first. She realizes that as she is becoming more like him, he was once like her. Thus she empathizes with her attacker and refuses to give in to hate.
In spite of these setbacks, the friends work together to track Dracula down so that he may be killed once and for all. As Wells described the scene, Mina recounts the final look in Dracula’s eyes when he is finally vanquished: It is one of peace. The friends had worked tirelessly together to put a final end to this bloodthirsty monster. Mina returns to health, completely devoid of any Dracula aftereffects.
To watch this compelling portrayal and performance, go the Levy Senior Center Foundation’s YouTube channel. By Wendi Kromash as published in the Evanston RoundTable. Ms. Kromash is a member of the Levy Center Foundation Board; she manages and moderates the Levy Lecture Series.