With vampires, cowboys, and Jack the Ripper, These Deeds certainly has a lot to offer. Solid performances and excellent set design help bring the characters to life. However, amongst its historical musings, These Deeds sometimes devolves into what feels more like a history lesson than an engaging story.
These Deeds is playing at the Kingston Grand Theatre from Nov. 2 to 19. The Journal attended the performance on Tuesday night.
Written and directed by Dan School of Drama professor Craig Walker, the play recounts the relationship between Bram Stoker (George Masswohl), the famed author of Dracula
The set design for These Deeds is beautiful. The stage floor is covered with rich red rugs, with red curtains hanging from the wings leading offstage. The rouge bleeds into the costume design, with Irving donning a red robe throughout the production.
The set and costumes highlight the importance of vampirism throughout the play and how the characters act as Dracula-like figures, sapping the life out of each other.
The performances were fantastic. Richard Sheridan Willis as Henry Irving was electrifying. His unpredictable lightning bolts of energy lead to some of the most entertaining moments of the play. He derides Stoker’s draft of Dracula, breaks into spontaneous soliloquies, and jumps from chair to chair, re-enacting Stoker’s experience at a brothel.
Sheridan Willis was fast and sharp, always clever, with expertly clean delivery. His performance ultimately orchestrates the plot and drives the central relationships and themes of the play.
The chemistry between Stoker and Irving was compelling, too. The dynamic between the pair essentially flips our expectations: Stoker is somewhat of a lapdog to Irving’s demeaning yet shrewd witticisms.
It’s convincing and intriguing; their relationship is crucial to the play’s focus on fame and the precarity of legacies. Although Irving is Stoker’s superior here, we, as the audience, know Stoker’s humble figure ultimately wins the posthumous fame Irving never achieved.
These Deeds is at its best when dialled in on these deep interpersonal connections between its characters, examining how each pursues fame at the expense of life.
However, Buffalo Bill’s plotline was slightly mishandled. Its commentary on Indigenous oppression and the Wounded Knee Massacre, while incredibly important, is underdeveloped. It’s a weighty, complicated topic, which, here, was not given proper care.
Raising awareness of Indigenous issues is vital, but it must be handled delicately and sensitively. It’s puzzling why the play tries to make Buffalo Bill a sympathetic figure, given how he profited off the dramatization of Indigenous oppression and Western expansion.
The Jack the Ripper plotline was also a bit convoluted. Although the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity propels the plot forward and engages the audience, it devolves into a hard to follow history lesson with far too many names thrown around.
Ultimately, These Deeds is a prime example that stories find strength in simplicity. The small set, the play’s minimal cast of three characters, and its focus on their relationships all work in tandem to develop the thematic content of the production.
Although engaging, the mystery of Jack the Ripper comes to an overly complex conclusion that distracts from the play’s substance. Its dealings with Indigenous issues were perhaps bungled, especially considering the play is written, directed, and acted solely by white men.
Nonetheless, These Deeds remains an interesting, entertaining examination of celebrity and the accumulation of fame, which, despite the play’s cast of historical characters, is perhaps more relevant now than ever before.
Dracula, Grand Theatre, History, Theatre, vampires
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