A clumsy misstep has allowed Langley actor Jamie O’Neill to perfect his character just in time for the opening of tonight’s production of Dracula.
The 39-year-old Langley Meadows father was a little embarrassed at first to admit that he ripped his lower left calf muscle simply leaving rehearsal a few weeks back.
But, he acknowledges now that his injury and subsequent limp has “added more to the creep factor” of his character, Butterworth, in the Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s rendition of the classic horror.
O’Neill is one of eight cast members starring in this Halloween season’s frightful theatre production opening in Surrey this week, then relocating to Vancouver followed by Maple Ridge playhouses later in the month.
“I love Halloween, and I love classic horror,” O’Neill said, confessing his draw to the more traditional horrors – and vampires shows in particular – developed since watching the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie during the mid-1990s. Then, he got hooked on the British-American television horror series (loosely based on Stoker’s novel), followed by the more recent, but short-lived, NBC television series bearing the same name.
But the play, O’Neill said, is ironically based on the original Broadway hit developed by Hamilton Deane and John Balderson back in the 1920s, which ultimately led to one of the most popular cinematic remake of the gothic classic starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The irony lies in the fact that the Langley actor has never seen the film or play. Now, he doesn’t want to until the production closes, fearing he’ll be compelled to adapt some of the character trait from the Lugosi movie.
Regardless, it was O’Neill’s passion for horrors, that in large part motivated him to try out for a dramatic role. It’s a switch up for him, since he’s typically participated in musicals, taken on comedic parts, or played love-struck fools.
“This is my first time doing a melodrama since high school,” he said, admitting he’s stepping out of his comfort zone.
That aside, hearing that fellow Langleyite and “respected” director Ellie King was intending to bring Dracula to the stage, he was psyched to try.
“This looked like something I really wanted to be involved in,” he said.
Turns out, he was in England — introducing his two-year-old son Greyson to all his new but distant relatives — during auditions back in April. So, he assumed this play just wasn’t in the cards for him.
But much to his delight, he returned home to learn of a second call for auditions, and knew he had to at least try out.
Trying out for the role of Dracula, was out of the question.
“I didn’t want to play Dracula… it’s just not me,” he said, his “bigger build” and boisterous personality being much more conducive to playing the supporting characters of Renfield or Butterworth.
So Butterworth, the attendant, it was.
He and the rest of the cast were handed copies of Stoker’s book, and given the summer to read up before rehearsals started in earnest last month.
“I’ve really grown into the character. I’m quite enjoying playing him,” O’Neill said, noting how he’s brought his “lower-class” Liverpool accent, English idiosyncrasies, humour, and wit to the role of the caretaker, body guard, and helper of the Victorian madhouse that serves as the backdrop for this thriller.
While there are some interesting twists to the production, including creative addition of steampunk costumes and stage props, and a female version of professor Van Helsing, O’Neill said the play has been kept quite true and authentic to the classic theatre production – with one exception.
He’s been given reins to build on humorous interaction between his attendant character of the home’s maid, Miss Wells. And he’s been incredible grateful for the chance to add just a hint of his unique English bend to the script.
O’Neill performed in one of King’s pantomimes five years ago, in her rendition of Alice in Wonderland. He hasn’t been on the stage since, consumed with family and work responsibilities.
While he was anxious to participate, and describes this as an escape that he’s undertaken just for himself, he’s pleased to announce he’s not the only family member involved in the production. His wife Erin Heard, assisted by her seven-year-old daughter Peyton, have since come aboard, taking charge of makeup for the ghoulish cast.
It’s becoming a family affair, he said, modelling himself in small part after the show’s director – King – who’s shared her love of theatre with her husband, sons, and any and all other family members possible through the years.
Counting down the minutes until the curtain goes up on their first showing, O’Neill said he’s extremely excited about this production – which is his first ever paid theatrical role.
“I’m super excited about it,” he shared with the Langley Advance.
“It’s kind of unbelievable how everything has just meshed together,” O’Neill said, adding that even the recent addition of a limp, however accidental, has brought what he described as the last necessary detail to his character.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” he said. “I knew Ellie. And I knew with her at the helm I should expect nothing less than phenomenal… but it’s even more than that.”
Dracula opens tonight (Thursday, Oct. 8) at Surrey Arts Centre (88th Avenue and King George Highway), and running Oct. 9 and 10 – all three nights at 8 p.m., with an 4 p.m. matinee also added on Oct. 10. Tickets: 604-501-5566 or tickets.surrey.ca.
The show then moves to Metro Theatre, at 1370 Marine Dr. SW in Vancouver, for 8 p.m. shows Oct. 14 to 17, and Oct. 21 to 24, plus a 4 p.m. matinee on Oct. 24. Ticket info: 604-266-7191 or tickets.metrotheatre.com.
The final stop for this travelling horror is Maple Ridge. There are five consecutive dates at The ACT Arts Centre with 8 p.m. shows running every night from Oct. 27 to 31, plus another 4 p.m. matinee on Oct. 31. Ticket info: 604-475-2787 or www.theactmapleridge.org/buy-tickets/.
HOW TO WIN
A lucky Langley Advance reader will win a pair of tickets to Dracula, showing in Surrey, Vancouver, and Maple Ridge this month.
How do you win?
• Click on the live link in the story about Dracula at www.langleyadvance.com, and tell us why what your favourite Halloween tradition is. You will be entered into the draw.
Preference will be given to Langley residents.
Postings must be received prior to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13, and the winner will be notified by email and/or phone. No staff or family of the Langley Advance or Black Press are eligible. This giveaway is restricted to online participants, 19 years or older only. Must include name and phone number.