REVERSALS: Rebecca is Almost Always Right
The following story was originally written for First Person Live in Arlington Heights. The theme was REVERSALS and I thought it would be fun to write a piece to be read in chronological reversed order.
Diane didn’t care for it so I did another piece. But I still like it so here it is.
As Dracula stood centerstage, surrounded by the bodies of his victims, and the first piano strains of “I Will Survive” chimed in, the audience started giggling again already exhausted from laughing their asses off for a straight hour. By the time he was fully into the song, glorious in his Richard Harris singing style, the crowd was clapping on the beat and the place was on fire.
The show was a hit. The cast was thrilled. The press was good and the audiences howled. At one point during that opening night Hail Mary pass, Dave’s Johnny Cash, having been bitten by Dracula, lumbered onstage with blood dripping from his fangs. He saw the audience, struck an iconic Cash pose and the place went wild. It didn’t matter that most in the crowd had never seen Dean Martin’s variety show nor had even heard of Joanne Worley, we had sold the concept and they cheered as Vlad Dracula wrapped things up and the undead cast rose from their graves to sing the closing number.
That night, Ron and I pulled out a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon and toasted each other on the roof of the theater until the sun came up. I raised my glass to Rebecca.
“Gang. First I’m sorry. You’ve been working and writing for weeks. I’ve been sort of mailing it in. We’re scrapping the whole thing and restarting.”
“Why?” asked Noah, already fully dressed and make-upped for Renfield.
“Because it isn’t funny. At least not to me and if I am to be the best director for this show, it has to make me laugh first. Oh, and Ron? You’re going to sing in this new version.”
Ron couldn’t sing. He was terrified of it. I told him to go home and watch Richard Harris sing-speak in the film Camelot for inspiration.
The night before I spent seven hours watching The Dean Martin Show from 1968, The Smothers Brothers, Laugh-In, Hee-Haw and every time I saw a bit that genuinely had me cracking up, I wrote it down.
As I wrote, I slowly began weaving together moments that would lead to others that would seem ridiculous but funny.
Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire as a duet with Dracula.
Dracula and Renfield transforming into Dickie and Tommy Smothers except this time, when Dickie was finally exasperated with Tommy’s goofy ideas, he’d beat him brutally or torture him set to a canned laugh track.
A Benny Hill-like chase set to Yakety Sax but in a minor key.
It all was so stupid, I thought, it just might work.
The cast was frustrated but game. We set into revamping this limp show and developed it for twelve hours a day for three days. We opened on Friday after all.
I could see that she was unhappy.
“It isn’t funny, Don.”
“It’s kinda funny.”
“Does it make you laugh?”
“Well, no but I think it’s a clever enough concept that it will make others laugh.”
“That’s bullshit, bro.”
Rebecca had come to see a technical rehearsal a week before we opened The Vladimir Dracula Variety Show and Comedy Hour. She was supposed to be a second set of eyes on things and, in her estimation, the show was crap.
She was right.
In my defense, I had been burning the candle at both ends and in the middle with a welding torch and I was tapped out. Running a small storefront is a lot of work if you’re only doing the facilities — cleaning and stocking the bathrooms, mopping the stage, fixing lights, vacuuming chairs, repairing random broken door frames, and the like — but with the added duties of administrating the finances, writing grants, executing a low budget marketing plan per show, directing the art within the building ended up getting the last scrap of consciousness before a drunken nap.
We needed a hit. We needed a show to make up for the loss of income that resulted in closing a show after opening night. Rent was freaking due and the piper needed to be paid so this show was important.
And it stunk.
“Don,” she lectured. “You are first and foremost an artist. A Henry Rollins, take no shit, Art for Art’s Sake delinquent. You wouldn’t allow any director of any show you put up on this stage the excuse that they were tired and the show was ‘funny enough.’ You have three days before an audience. do something.”
It was the first and only show I closed after opening night.
Jonathan had the idea to create a piece that told the Dracula story from the perspective of his human sycophant, Renfield. After a few months of development and rehearsals and the casting of Ron Kuzava as Dracula, we watched a staging of it on Jonathan’s roof at 10PM and it was brilliant. We were all thrilled by the physicality, the daring, and the overall coolness of what Pitts had created.
Jonathan, however, struggled with moving the show indoors. He reversed many of his coolest ideas and whittled the show down to a series of earnest monologues and some shadow puppetry and it was, all agreed, not the same show. Once the reviews panned it mercilessly, I pulled the plug.
Ron was furious and disheartened. His Dracula was amazing — part Nosferatu, part Gary Oldman, part Bela Lugosi. Soon after we closed, he and I sat on the roof of the theater, drinking beer and talking. At one point, we started laughing about his version of The Impaler being immortal in our times and what he might’ve done in the 1960’s. And I made the joke that he would’ve had a hit TV show. You know, like the Sonny & Cher Show or The Dean Martin Show.
The more we drank, the funnier the idea became. Guest stars could be Joanne Worley from Laugh-In, Johnny Cash (the Man in Black guest starring on The Prince of Darkness’s show) and Barbi Benton as the silly eye candy. We could take all the work he and Noah Ginex (who had played Renfield in Jonathan’s play) and put it in the new show.
A week later, the show was cast and we started the month-long grind to create this weird, new show. We called it The Vladimir Dracula Comedy Showcase & Variety Hour.
It was a no-brainer. It practically wrote itself.