Fangs a Lot: Steven Dietz, Three Day Hangover and “Dracula”

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Jonathan Finegan and Paul Kite in Steven Dietz's Dracula. All photos by Lloyd Mulvey.

You’ve got all of two terrifying nights left to feel those bloodthirsty fangs digging into your neck, but for Three Day Hangover — winner of the “Best Theater Company Name, Like, Ever” award — Steven Dietz’s boozy adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula has been giving audiences a terrific coffin fit. Starring January LaVoy of One Life to Live fame as Van Helsing the Vampire Slayer, and Michael Borrelli, Jonathan Finegan, Justin Yorio, Miranda Noelle Wilson, Nemuna Ceesay and Paul Kite in a variety of familiar roles, Dietz imagines Dracula not only on the prowl for fresh flesh, but putting his would-be victims in an awkward spot: their only line of defense is a stiff drink!

Dracula may be ending its run at McAlpin Hall at The West Park Presbyterian Church (165 W. 86th St.) through Oct. 17, but it will be fast followed by a similarly hyper-interactive mounting — of Moliere’s Tartuffe.

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Miranda Noelle Wilson as, well, you know.
There will be blood: Miranda Noelle Wilson.

With minor understatement, Dietz’s bio claims that he’s the eighth-most produced playwright in the US, with some 30 original plays and adaptations on view at over 100 regional theaters, Off-Broadway and 20 foreign countries during the last 30 years. For some inveterate theatergoers, his initial burst of fame came in the early 1990s courtesy of a moving two-hander, Lonely Planet, which contemplated the raging AIDS crisis in realistic and metaphorical terms. A two-time winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award and a two-time finalist for the Steinberg New Play Award, Dietz’s plays also include Becky’s New Car, Yankee Tavern, Last of the Boys, The Nina Variations and Shooting Star.

For tickets to Dracula, audiences must leave labeled vials of their blood on the doorstep of — as a reminder — McAlpin Hall at The West Park Presbyterian Church. Or one bottle of spirits for each member of the cast. Or, for those lacking blood or guts, click here for tickets.

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And now, 5 questions that Steven Dietz has never been asked:

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What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
“As you spend several (or more) years revising and re-imagining a new play, are you changing it or is it changing you?”

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What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
“What feeling do you want the audience to take away at the end of the play?” As if I can produce not only a specific feeling but also a feeling shared uniformly by all audience members at the same time on the same night! Wow. If only. This question, however innocent, is proof that two very troubling notions are alive and well in the culture: the singular “emotional branding” of experience, and the myth of the “uniform response.” That way lies madness.

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Finegan, with January LaVoy.
Finegan, with January LaVoy.

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
“Thank you for this nice discussion of the play. When will the real playwright be here?”

Is Dracula (the character, not the play) cultural camp? If so, how do you turn that into a play? And if not, how do you even respond to the question?
Though my adaptation is not rooted in camp, Dracula in this cultural moment is surely fodder for camp because, at root, what he represents is fully terrifying. Camp is a delicious response to terror because we turn the things that terrify us into humor. What other choice do we have? In the case of my adaptation, I tried to strip away the artifice that is easy to laugh at and look Dracula in the eye: to me, he is not a symbol or a metaphor or a cultural marker. He is a man stronger than all of us who is staring with intent at our arteries. Oh, and he’ll live forever. It would be nice to laugh at that. But on same base level, as much as I am entertained by the adventure of his story, I can’t laugh him off.

Playwright Steven Dietz. Photo by Bret Brookshire.
Playwright Steven Dietz. Photo by Bret Brookshire.

If you had the power to convene anyone you wanted in a room, and if you could convene Bram Stoker and Count Dracula in a room with you, what would you ask them? How would they reply? What would surprise you most about them in the flesh?
I would talk with them about the theatre. Stoker was a man of the theatre and the Count has no shortage of theatrical mojo — so I would want to know what kind of theatre they would run, and where, and what plays they would program. I think they would be formidable at fundraising and working a room. Can you imagine the Count as a telemarketer? You’d “SUBSCRIBE NOW” — no doubt. I want to believe Stoker would commission new seasons of thrillers and mysteries — but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’d just want to do Cats and Greater Tuna and Mamet. Who knows? I want to believe the Count would want love stories. Lots of love stories. Real ones. With hearts. And the fluid inside them. I see him the back of his theatre watching the actors onstage. Tears in his eyes. Hunger in his heart.

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According to the Dracula press release, you’re the eighth-most-produced U.S. playwright. When you’re asked for advice on a playwriting career, what do you wish you’d been asked instead?
Do you know that old adage you see on t-shirts in bars: “They speak of my drinking but they never speak of my thirst”? I guess the playwright equivalent for me would be: “They speak of my productions but they never speak of my work.” Aspiring writers and critics always seem to want to know how I manage to get the commissions, connections, productions, etc. Students seem to want to know the secret code or handshake (which, of course, does not exist) that will get them seen, known, recognized, championed. What I am almost never asked is: “How do you do the work? When you get to your desk, how do you pick the words? How do you make and revise and remake the stories?” I speak regularly of the outrageous good fortune I’ve received as a playwright (30-plus years and counting), but, as Arnold Palmer noted: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” There is no shortcut.