‘Nosferatu’ at Crown City this All Hallows’ Eve Season

I really love theatre that boldly goes where no ensemble has gone before.

In the past William A. Reilly and Gary Lamb of Crown City Theatre Company have proven that they are capable of pushing the envelope with firm resolve.

Whenever speaking of the best of L.A. stage, I summon up their daring and thoughtful production of Schwartz & Tebelak’s musical Godspell some years back where they reframed it in the uncertainty of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the Gospels which in its first renderings ended with the words “for they were afraid.”

Crown City has continued to mount productions boasting a level of inventiveness that some of L.A.’s larger and better funded houses could simulate.

Nosferatu – A Symphony in Terror is a good case in point.

Even if you’ve never watched Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1922 classic film, you likely have seen the striking black and white image of the actor Max Schreck as Count Orlok, Murnau’s cadaverous vampire with the disturbing rodent-like features.

The film itself was an “unauthorized adaptation” of the Bram Stoker novel Dracula as the rights to the novel were refused the filmmakers. But merely changing a few names and locations could not disguise the blatant copyright infringement. Eventually the Stoker estate took the German studio to court and won, as part of the judgment all copies of the Murnau film were ordered destroyed.

Fortunately the order was not vigorously pursued.

Murnau would direct other films for German studios, the best known being The Last Laugh (1924), before emigrating to Hollywood in 1926.

He would make three films with the Fox Studio including Sunrise (1927), one of the greatest of the silent era films. Four years after filming Sunrise Murnau, at the age of 42, would be involved in a fatal car accident outside of Santa Barbara. Of the 21 films he directed only 13 survive.

Director William A. Reilly has taken the silent film Nosferatu and reconceived it for the stage, and other than the voiceover of the narrator, who reads the title cards for the actors, the silence remains.

Michael Marchak as Thomas in 'Nosferatu' (Courtesy of Crown City Theatre Company)

Michael Marchak as Thomas in ‘Nosferatu’ (Courtesy of Crown City Theatre Company)

Following the narrative of the Stoker novel and the Murnau film, Reilly’s adaptation has Thomas (Michael J. Marchak)leave his lovely township of Wisborg and his new bride Ellen (Alina Bolshakova) to travel on business to the far east and despite the pleadings of the locals (do they ever listen?) arrives at the forbidding castle of Count Orlok (Michelle Holmes – pictured above).

Thomas discovers the truth about his unnatural host too late, and while he is nursed back from near death at a local convent, Orlok begins his corpse-laden journey to a new hunting ground in Wisborg and to Thomas’ beautiful young wife.

It is the archetypal vampire tale which Stoker laid out in his 1897 novel and which has served ever since down to the current Showtime TV series The Strain; a thing of evil descends on an unsuspecting people.

Reilly has padded his redefining of the Murnau film with a wide selection of music from Liszt to Sibelius.

Reilly adds to the mix film, dance (choreography by Lisaun Whittingham) and a heightening of the theatrical movement on stage which results in a work of operatic silence.

The cast is a talented one which handles the quiescent and choreographed demands with unruffled skill.

Reilly has chosen his leads well with Marchak and Bolshakova affecting the looks of a far away land from long ago. And Marchak, in addition to an elegant beauty is also the strongest dancer.

Holmes has proven herself a talent of note in roles from Frau Blücher in the Doma Theatre Company’s Young Frankenstein to Elizabeth Proctor in ICT’s dire Abigail/1720 (Not Holmes’ fault, just an appalling play).

As cinema’s creepiest blood sucker Holmes adds another feather to her already copiously plumed bonnet.

While in some productions the failings come bounding off the stage to curl up in your lap, slobbering you with their defects, the truth is you can always find flaws in nearly every show, and this is true of Nosferatu.

However the major flaws of this production can be chalked up to the creative ambitions of its creator and the financial realities of Equity Waver theatre.

The final verdict on the show is that it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and would prove a perfect, not to mention unique, entertainment for the whole family as we come into the season of “things that go bump in the night,”

I say that, rather than helping dentists everywhere pay off their student loans while encouraging obesity in our nation’s children, this would be a much better way of spending your Halloween evening. ♣

*   *   *

♣ And here’s your Weird Fact For The Week. In July of 2015 Murnau’s grave was broken into and his skull stolen. Police are unsure if the thief they are looking for is some sinister occultist or just a really big fan. A reward has been offered for the stolen skull which is described as being white.

Nosferatu—A Symphony in Terror 
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.,
Sundays at 3 p.m. now through Oct. 31

Playing at: Crown City Theatre
11031 Camarillo St, North Hollywood, CA 91602

For Tickets and Additional Information
Tel: (818) 605-5685

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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