Next month Maxwell Mansion hosts a series of performances based on Bram Stoker’s legendary gothic novel, Dracula. You may have seen one of the hundreds of adaptations of the book, but you have never seen any quite like this.
“This is how Stoker wanted to see his novel,” says Josh Hitchens the adaptation’s author and only actor as he stands clad in all leather, a stovepipe hat tucked beneath his arm.
In the 19th century public readings were considered quite the event. (Dickens famously gave six public readings of Great Expectations before the final installment of the serial novel was published in 1861.)
This performance has something more than most readings – time travel. Once inside the Maxwell Mansion, a remarkable example of gothic architecture located just off Germantown Avenue, it feels as if you have stepped back a hundred and fifty years. The house is filled with beautifully preserved antiques and period decorations. The windows are covered with heavy wooden shutters, keeping out almost all light and giving it an intensely grim and mysterious feel.
While Hitchens captures the spirit of the time and characters with a sometimes chilling fierceness, it is the house that first gets you in the mood for Dracula.
Hitchens’ performance, which essentially boils down to a condensed version of the source text, is captivating. He plays all the book’s original characters himself, sculpting each into a unique entity. The show plays in the parlor and the house is an enchanting counterpart to Hitchens’ work.
From the outside, the façade is both rugged and intense. It’s gray, stone exterior leads the eyes upward to its tower, which seems at any moment could tear a hole in the sky. A manicured garden of all colored flowers and greenery encircles the house like a mote, giving the property cast as the home of a Transylvanian count a startling sort of contrast.
Dracula is written in a series of correspondence, journal entries, and other firsthand sources in which the eponymous main character is like a wisp of air waiting to be revealed. When Hitchens comes to Dracula’s scenes he transforms himself into some other kind of being. His face and hands contort and his eyes glaze over.
The performance is quite intimate and at times intensely frightening. At one moment in the production Hitchens unsheathes a rather large knife and… well you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Something else to see when you attend the show is the complete set of reproduced notes on the novel, which Stoker penned while living in Philadelphia. They will be on display in the mansion as a testament to how the story of Dracula all began, somewhat like the diary log of Jonathan Harker, which starts off Stoker’s masterpiece.
There are a very limited number of seats and opportunities to see this unique piece of theatre so make sure you get yours before it’s too late.
The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 West Tulpehocken St. Philadelphia, Pa. 19144. Call 215-438-1861.
Friday June 10: 7 & 9 PM
Saturday June 11: 7:30 PM
Sunday June 12: 2 & 4 PM
$30 for Admission