Some plays deserve all caps. I don’t like all caps most of the time. THE HUNGRY deserves all caps.
On Tuesday, I went to this show feeling a little down. A project I’ve been working on for years hit a wall, one that will take me time to recover from before I can write forward. I spent time helping some friends out on a film shoot as an extra, but when only two of the recruits showed up, it took a lot longer than I expected. Yup, and I even met with an amazing television PR/story analyst in the morning. That part of my day was great, and kept me from getting caught up in the set back, but it’s a lot of the same encouragement. It’s become my mantra right now: wait, keep writing, keep meeting people–you won’t be able to make it happen right away, but you seem to be making the right sacrifices to figure out how to carve out your own path.
But then I arrived at the line-up outside of Unit 102/The Theatre Machine and spotted a good friend from The Toronto Cold Reads (and his sporting Tombstone-esque mustache). Not watching the show alone. Night already made.
And then the horror play began. I’ve been playing with genre theatre recently. It’s an area I never thought would draw me, but when childhood material started pointing toward horror conventions and a collaborator/previous employer brought me into a science fiction Fringe project, I found so much to inspire me. New texts to read, watch, and consume–my favorite types of research. When Toronto BFF told me she would be in Luis Fernandes’ new play about vampires, I was excited to see it. Though she kept warning me that it would be rough and a first production of a very new play, the final product didn’t strike me this way. It scared me, made me laugh–even had me nodding my head and cheering along with some of the cast “We want guns!” (which is NOT something I would say in everyday life).
According to the program, THE HUNGRY takes off on all the vampire conventions that bother Luis from his extensive research through comic books, cheesy 80s movies, and the recent new vampire craze (I’m guessing Twilight, even though I think we’ll all agree that except for Fifty Shades of Grey, this is sort of old news by now). Mainly, vampires here are not sexy–they are filthy, racist and sexist. They consume their victims in every sense of the word. The order of vampire hunters consists of a bishop and his recruits: bums, junkies, and whores taken off the streets, forced to shave every follicle of hair off their bodies, to abstain from any sexual activities, and sent out into the field to defend against the Hungry with long leather jackets, old-school crossbows, and no training.
For a show that purports to come straight from 80s popular culture, it had way more depth. By casting the vampire hunters all as members of a religious order, Fernandes provided a critique of the way belief, Christian fundamentalist belief and doctrine especially, fails to steer the majority of society. But mostly, I watched the creation of a few key characters like Rebecca, the rebellious hunter and ex-whore who studies the Hungry and the order and begins to comprehend at least a bit of the larger universe around her, even if she cannot do anything to change her own fate. I also appreciated the Bishop/master of the order of vampire hunters for his depiction of an inept leader more concerned with maintaining control and his humidifier than protecting his charges. His comedy broke up the building horror, but also added to the play’s larger critiques.
Sure, I saw the stage manager preparing the stage before the play began. She had to ask one of the audience members to make sure a light switch was flipped off. And the whole house starts to get humid with so many packed inside this storefront theater. But if indie theatre that doesn’t take itself seriously can make such insightful comments on the monster of the moment and what that says about society, then maybe the larger houses should also consider combining their facetious comedies and serious socio-political dramas into entertaining live theatre like THE HUNGRY.
Watching THE HUNGRY in all its brilliance did depress me for a few brief moments. At first, I watched the monologues spill out and the tension build thinking, “This is great! Why can’t I write this? Wahhhhh” By the next day, the previous set-backs from my other playwriting project had dissipated, waiting on the back-burner until enough time passes, and I could wake up and begin drafting the horror play I’ve been researching and mulling and developing for over a year. Twenty pages spilled out. I’m sure the whole process won’t be easy, that the rest of the 100 or so new play pages will hit new obstacles and stubborn patches. For now: good work doesn’t shut down more good work–it inspires us all to create even more great work.