Half-baked ramblings from a playwright and armchair thinker.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Wrapping Up The Week
Bah! Sorry, folks. I haven't had a chance to finish those horror entries or write any substantial posts for a couple days. I've been absolutely swamped with Blood Brothers stuff that's taken a good portion of my time. The good news is that our first stumble-through of the show looked pretty damn good. The bad news is we've still got a lot of work to do.
We've still got time. We've still got time. We've still got time.
This weekend we've got rehearsals for episode two of Speed Demons, our serial 1960s-drag-race-demonic-possession play.
Fortunately, I've only given myself three lines in this one. Unfortunately, I've got a lot of fighting to do in it. One of these days I'll learn I swear.
Anyway, have a good weekend, folks. I'll be back to natter at you on Monday.
Vampire Cowboys Kicking The Proverbial Ass at the NYIT Awards
Congratulations to the Vampire Cowboys for winning three, count 'em three, NYIT Awards for Fight Girl Battle World last night: Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Choreography/Movement and Outstanding Costume Design.
Although it's gone up to that Great Production in the Sky, judging from its recent good press and extended production history, there's still a chance it'll be extended/restaged in the not-too-distant future, so I wanted to drop a note of congratulations to the Management for their excellent production of The Chalk Boy. Joshua Conkel's play (which he directed) blends elements from Our Town and Twin Peaks to create a sweet, dark, sad, funny and insightful play about the hell of being in high school in a small town and how the unexpected disappearance of a high school football hero throws everyone's lives in disarray.
The cast (Mary Catherine Donnelly, Marguerite French, Jennifer Harder, Kate Huisentruit), many of whom break the fourth wall and serve as narrators and multiple characters (does Donnelly get any professional voiceover work? If not, she should), is quite captivating and believable as insecure high school students, becoming BFFs in one scene then mortal enemies in the next (yup, this is high school, all right). And Conkel's dialogue gets it right: this is genuinely (as memory serves) how high school teens talk.
The Chalk Boy captures that insecurity and confusion about one's own identity perfectly. For example, Penny and Breanna (Harder and Huisentruit) play Wiccans, even though it's pretty clear early on they know little to nothing about being witches, and are quite possibly being Wiccans just to separate themselves from the herd. I loved how they deal with Penny's (Harder) head-over-heels love for Jeff Chalk, and how we learn through flashbacks and dream sequences he's duller than drying paint. I also loved the scene at the high school dance where Penny and Breanna dance, with Penny completely unaware that Breanna is in love with her (possibly because Breanna herself is confused and in denial about her feelings toward Penny).
Yeah, I dug the hell out of this one. It's really good stuff.
Will The Chalk Boy get another life after its three-week run at Under St. Marks? Possibly. I hope so. People should see this.
Well, okay, not really. I just wanted to check in before the weekend came along.
I'm currently working on few horror entries at once, but it doesn't look like the next one will be completed until next week. We're finishing up our second week of rehearsals for The Blood Brothers Present...The Master of Horror and just got hard copies for the promotional postcards.
Unrelated, you all should read Laura's follow-up entry about our country's distorted view of itself.
Anyway, I'll give you all updates on the show, the Saloon series, and those horror movie entries next week. In the meantime, have a good weekend, folks, and don't take any wooden nickels (as Uncle Yustin would say).
"Our generation has created celebrities out of people who have no talent. We have funded our lifestyles with imaginary money. We watch scripted reality t.v. shows.
"Our way of life is a lie.
"We are bankrupt, and our system reflects it. A healthy society would not accept these lies. A healthy society does not need to be shielded from the truth. A healthy society would be allowed to see the coffins of its dead soldiers."
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986)
Now it could be debated that John McNaughton's low-budget fictionalized account of a Henry Lee Lucas-type serial killer is not an honest-to-gorsh horror film, but damned if it isn't scarier than most films branding themselves as horror. Originally commissioned to be a low budget, mindless slasher exploitation flick, McNaughton and his cast (mostly comprised of members of the Organic Theater Company) created something substantially more intelligent, honest and disturbing.
Despite not being particularly bloody per se (there's much more gore in Friday the 13th or even such PG-13 fare as The Ring, if I recall), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was released unrated, since the MPAA said that no cuts would qualify it for an R-rating. Despite my several issues with the MPAA and its inconsistent and erratic policies on granting R or NC-17 ratings, I'm actually inclined to agree with that institution in this instance (for reasons I'll go into later).
Now, I'll admit up front: yes, Henry has some very hammy acting and some very clunky dialogue. Nosedive vet (and former roommate) Christopher Yustin walked out after 15 minutes of the movie because he just found it too cheesy and heavy-handed. I can't - and won't - argue that the dialogue in McNaughton and Richard Fire's script leaves something to be desired.
Then again, we're not watching a movie like Henry for passages of purple prose. And, if you're patient enough to get past Henry and Becky's stilted, awkward and portentous conversation about how and why Henry killed his mama, you'll be witnessing some of the most disturbingly realistic and believable scenes shown in a horror film. In fact, the slight awkwardness of the film's first few opening scenes lets down your defenses (or at least, they caused me to let mine down the first time I watched it; and boy, have I learned from my mistake).
Henry has no interest in getting into the psychology of its titular character. Aside from oblique references to being raised by an abusive mother, and Henry's glib justification that, "It's either you or them one way or the other," the film doesn't offer any real explanation as to why Henry does what he does. (Though, to be fair, is there really any explanation that viewers would find satisfying?) Despite this, the film doesn't portray Henry as a two-dimensional monster: he is a very real and plausible character.
"Unlike typical 'slasher' movies, 'Henry' does not employ humor, campy in-jokes or a colorful anti-hero. Filmed in the gray slush and wet winter nights of Chicago's back alleys, honky-tonk bars and drab apartments, it tells of a drifter who kills strangers, efficiently and without remorse. The movie contains scenes of heartless and shocking violence, committed by characters who seem to lack the ordinary feelings of common humanity."
The film opens with a young woman named Becky (played by Tracy Arnold) who moves in with her brother, Otis (Tom Towles, in a performance that makes the skin crawl) after leaving her husband. Around the same time, Henry (Michael Rooker), after having served time for murdering his mother, also moves in with Otis after being released from prison (Henry and Otis met in prison a few years earlier). Despite being nervous about Henry's past, Becky finds herself drawn to her brother's friend.
We find out that Otis also has incestuous feelings for Becky, and regularly attempts to molest her (at first done in the name of just playing around, though we can clearly see otherwise), much to the disgust and dismay of Henry.
One evening, Henry and Otis get it on with two prostitutes. During this, Henry kills both women without provocation. Though not feeling any sense of remorse or horror, Otis is worried about the police catching them. Henry reassures him that everything will be okay, and before long, Henry takes Otis under his wing and shows him the ropes of killing strangers just for the fun of it.
During one of their exploits, the pair gets a hold of a video camera, which they use for the one scene that no doubt prompted the MPAA to insist on an NC-17 rating. In one scene shown through their camcorder, unbroken by any cuts, we witness Henry and Otis torturing a family to death in their home.
I have no other way to describe it except in this way: it appears as though we're watching a snuff film. Lack of gore does nothing to diminish the power and intensity of the scene. In fact, the lack of gore may add to the scene's brutal and unflinching realism.
The scene can be found below (it begins around the 2:19 mark). Now, let me be clear: not only is this scene not work-friendly, it is most certainly not for the squeamish. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
When the film was first released, as is the case with most effective horror films, there were two main opposing viewpoints from viewers and critics: "those who felt the film did its job brilliantly, and those who felt its job should not have been done at all," as Ebert points out. (Ebert was apparently of the latter mindset when the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre came out: sure, it was well made, but damned if he could figure out why it was made.)
Obviously, I'm in the former category: yes, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a portrait of a psychopath, but at least it's an honest one, and not created out of a desire to titillate its audience.
AsIdidlastyeartogearup for the Halloween season and to plug the upcoming Blood Brothers Present show, I'll be once again writing a few new essays/entries on some of my favorite horror films. This may not meet with Scott Walters' approval (and I really should check in with him more often about the content on Jamespeak), but to that I say: Whatever.
Anyway, I've had a list of films I've wanted to natter on about for a little while but I think I need to view them a few more times just for good measure. When will the first entry be posted? Oh, I don't know. I can't be bothered with those sorts of pesky details. Suffice it to say: it will come soon, young Padawans. Soon.
And don't worry, Isaac, I'm not ignoring the meme. I just have to figure out how to do it, since I have no iPod or music randomizer of any sort (I listen to CDs on my DVD player). Suffice it to say, I'm working on it.
This is an old but still excellent article by Andrew O'Heir from Salon.com about Stephen King.
In it, Mr. O'Heir not only explains that Mr. King "one of the most important writers of our age," but also offers a good primer reading list for folks unfamiliar with Mr. King's work. (As a parenthetical, The Stand is not on the list, but Mr. O'Heir makes a decent argument for why it isn't. It, one of my favorite books of all-time, however, is.)
"King's great talent is to keep you reading. His books will suck you out of your regular life and dangle you over the darkest unexplored abysses of your mind, while your flesh crawls around your skeleton as if trying to escape; they're nobody's idea of glittering literary style.
We had the first reading of the scripts for The Blood Brothers Present on Monday night and rehearsals are now underway. I had a fun time hearing the other entries, particularly Qui's and Mac's entries, Quitter's, Inc. and In the Deathroom (respectively). I just sent in my cuts and amendments for my entry, Nona, to Patrick, which seem to meet with his approval.
In the meantime, starting this project has inspired me to reread King's epic, The Stand, which I have read twice before (but the last time was when I was in junior high or so, if I recall). I have to say, it still holds up. At first, I was a bit apprehensive at his (what I first found to be) excessive detail: the point of the first chapter is to introduce Stu Redman, the dying Charles Campion and how his crashing into Hap's gas station triggers the outbreak of the superflu. So did we really need a complete geneology of Stu's family history? (With this huge tome on my lap, I knew I would not remember where Stu's brother lives or what he did for a living five pages later.) However, that apprehension blew away by the second chapter.
And, for a book that's nearly 1,200 pages, it flies.
I'm not the fastest reader, but I just read 200 pages in one sitting like it was nothing. Even with roughly 20 or so major characters, the narrative is never cramped or confused. Each segment blends in seamlessly with the others (which was the exact opposite way I felt with-please forgive me, Isaac-Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. Just when I'm wrapping up Nick Andros's dilemma with the rednecks who beat him up and robbed him in Arkansas, I'm wondering how ole' Larry Underwood is doing in New York and lo and behold, the next chapter gives me just that.
So, yeah. Damn fine read.
I think I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. Stephen King was one of my first favorite authors (Isaac Asimov was another). His work was the first I would buy in hardcover as soon as it would come out: no checking out at the library, no waiting for paperback. Rereading The Stand (as well as flipping through some of the stories in Everything's Eventual and On Writing), I've been reminded why I love King's writing...
(despite some annoying literary ticks he has, such as his ultra-folksy walk-on characters and his tendency to be hyperbolic with the good and evil qualities of his heroes and villains)
...and how his work got me to love reading in general.
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of The Stand, and with this production, looking forward to seeing how people like our adaptations of his shorter work.
So, the first round of episodes for Vampire Cowboys' Saturday Night Saloon took place this weekend and I gotta say, what a blast. Despite the weather being monsoon-style, there was a huge turnout (people were poking their heads in the door because they couldn't fit in the space). And all of the pieces were great.
Hell, Webb Wilcoxen wrote and staged a musical. And I don't mean a show with some piano accompaniment and a handful of solos, I mean a full-on musical with overlapping melodies and recurring motifs!
It seems as though everyone involved from last year stepped up their games, and the audience appeared to truly dig it.
I'm also glad that our entry, Speed Demons, seemed to play like gangbusters. All in all, I have an absolute blast doing this series. Seeing the folks from the last time 'round feels damn near like summer camp reunion. I can't wait to continue doing this.
For those of you who couldn't check it out, here are some photos from our entry, Speed Demons. With a little luck, we'll post the video for it soon. In addition, here are some photos from all of the shows.
Nona by James Comtois Quitters, Inc. by Qui Nguyen In the Deathroom by Mac Rogers
All based on short stories by Stephen King
Directed by Pete Boisvert & Patrick Shearer
Michael Criscuolo — Jeremy Goren — Jessi Gotta — Marc Landers Marsha Martinez — Christian Toth — Ben Trawick-Smith
Endtimes Underground @ the Gene Frankel Theatre October 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, 30-November 1, Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
While hitchhiking on a snowy winter's night in Maine, a college dropout meets and falls in love with a girl he’d do absolutely anything for. Morrison is going to quit smoking whether he wants to or not… but is the cure worse than the disease? And Fletcher, an ex-reporter from the New York Times, is being held in an interrogation room in a foreign land, with only his wits to protect him.
These are the tales that make up this year’s The Blood Brothers Present... series, Nosedive Productions’ annual October horror show. James Comtois (Colorful World, The Adventures of Nervous-Boy), Qui Nguyen (Fight Girl Battle World) and Mac Rogers (Universal Robots, Hail Satan), three of New York indie theatre scene’s hottest playwrights write three new stage plays based on stories by the Master of Horror, Stephen King.
In addition to these one-acts, the evening will also present vignettes based on King’s Survivor Type, Paranoid: A Chant and The Last Waltz. The evening will be directed by Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer.
The Blood Brothers Present...The Master of Horror features graphic violence and is recommended for adults only.
The Blood Brothers Present... will be performed at Endtimes Underground @ the Gene Frankel Theatre (24 Bond St. between Bowery and Lafayette) October 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, 30-November 1 (Thursday through Saturday). All shows are at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $18. Subway: 6 to Bleeker; or V, D, F, B, to Broadway/Lafayette.