Dracula the Puppet Play, Hystopolis Productions, at Red Hen Productions. Why have the uneven puppeteers at Redmoon become Chicago's darlings when there's a company like Hystopolis in town? This question kept running through my mind as I watched their puppet version of the Dracula story, packed with astonishing theatrical moments. The answer may be in part that the folks at Hystopolis really take their time between shows--their last full-scale production, Ubu Roi, premiered more than six years ago at Rosary College.
The delays are a shame, because this production shows that Hystopolis is capable of pure puppet magic, such as Dracula's onstage transformation into a fluttering will-o'-the-wisp to escape pursuers and the metamorphosis of his intended victim, Lucy, from a mousy wallflower into a succubus wannabe.
To my taste, Lon Extract's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel contains a few too many jokes about the vampire genre. And the play is so crammed with tension-destroying silly bits that one wonders whether everyone was a little embarrassed by the sexually charged story. Still, the puppets--designed by Michael Schwabe, who also directs--are gorgeous, and move so fluidly it's easy to forget they're not alive. Dracula is all sharp-angled shadows, looking as if he just walked out of a German expressionist painting, while Lucy's large eyes and long, blond tresses are the epitome of Victorian virginal allure.