Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ghost Brothers

by J.S. Holland

Sometimes the creation of a deathless Southern Gothic play takes a lot longer than one might think. Especially if you're living on Creeps Time and you're acutely aware of the Spacetime Vortex that we are all swimming in at this very second.

Why, even my own juggernaut Cheeseburger & Fries: The Musical has been held up in Development Hell for two years now, even though it initially had an opening date booked at the Kentucky Center for the Arts and preliminary casting was already underway. And for those who saw my play Toulouse-inations and were puzzled by its lowbrow sparse set, I intended (and still do) to make Cheeseburger & Fries a true over-the-top Voraxical spectacle.

And that's exactly what caused the show's postponement. It calls for either a sophisticated rear-projection screen or a gargantuan mother of all flat-screen monitors, neither of which is available at the Kentucky Center's MeX Theatre. And my casting call for dead-on imitators of William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and Dean Martin didn't bring the right people to my door. Furthermore, I was adamant that a genuine Bob Wills-style Western Swing band provide live musical accompaniment, and I was a little shocked to find that there are, so far as I know, no Bob Wills-style Western Swing bands in Kentucky.

I'm sick and tired of compromising on these things, so rather than scale down the production, I pulled it until I am able to stage it the way it was meant to be staged, and with my total control. So the project now sits on a shelf like a sleeper agent, awaiting the signal that says "green, green" to call for its activation. And it will come. All in time. Wait and see.

This is why it came as no shock to me to learn that over 11 years ago, Stephen King and John Cougar Mellencamp set out to create a play together, and it still hasn't seen the limelight of day yet. But it's almost there now. According to an article in The Canadian Press:

"John had an idea that he wanted to do a play about ghosts in a cabin and how sibling rivalries and resentments are carried down from generation to generation," King said.

He said Mellencamp told his agent he wanted a writer like Stephen King and discovered that the two had the same agent.

They got together and agreed to try to write the play, King said. "One of the reasons to do it was because I never had, and John felt the same way."

King said he outlined a story incorporating live brothers and dead brothers.

"John wanted it to be in the South because he's a big admirer of Tennessee Williams. I was fine with that because I'd been reading a lot of William Faulkner, and those voices were in my head."

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to this production. King and Cougar? Southern Gothic? Could be a pip. Could. be. a. pip. King says the show is deliberately designed for "a small stage, a small cast and small tech requirements, sort of the anti-Spider-man." Thank heaven for that. Between the bloated excesses of the unlucky Spider-man Broadway show and the nauseating "I insult everybody, aren't I clever?" attention-whore antics of Trey Parker's Book of Mormon, professional theatre is really taking a suicidal swan dive these days. That this childish garbage is considered a shoo-in to win multiple Tony awards while genuises like Judy Kaye have yet to win one, simply sickens me.

Instead of opening in NYC, London or L.A., the King-Mellencamp production of The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County will open in my old hometown (I have several hometowns) of Atlanta. I like that a lot. The show was originally scheduled to make its world premiere at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in 2009, but ended up being postponed over some serious and bitter disagreements with the director. (Hired directors are notorious for trying to hijack shows from producers.) It's now scheduled to open at the Alliance in April 2012, just in time for the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

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