Local Playwright Tries His Hand at Horror

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Over the years, local gay playwright Michael McKeever has served up award-winning comedies and dramas that have been performed by theater companies around the world. One big gap in his oeuvre is horror…until now.

On Oct. 11, Zoetic Stage at Miami’s Arsht Center will premiere McKeever’s “Dracula.” But, if you think you know Bram Stoker’s classic tale of the feared Transylvanian vampire—or even seen any of the theatrical adaptations—you’re in for a big surprise, compliments of McKeever’s clever imagination.

“I’ve always wanted to do my own Dracula and put my spin on it. I grew up with the universe of monsters—Frankenstein, the Mummy, Wolfman and Dracula. It was a part of my youth. The problem is there was never a reason to do it. Why do it? What would make my Dracula different?” he explained.

Then the #MeToo movement happened.

McKeever elaborated, “Dracula was the ultimate male predator, so I reinvented the women. They’re all bad ass, not just victims…they find the strength to stand up for themselves and become heroes. As that concept loomed, I started redesigning much of (the story). Van Helsing is usually an old white man, in this case, he is now a strong black women.”

The playwright went back to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and went from there. Hundreds of films, plays and books that expanded on Stoker’s vampire legend over the past 120 years freed him to go where “his” characters might take him.

“I wanted to keep true to it as a starting point,” he said, “but, I wanted my female lead to be the hero who saves the day with elements of the novel continuing to be the themes that influenced her.” (Van Helsing is being played by critically-acclaimed local actress Karen Stephens.)

And it had to be scary. McKeever’s husband, director Stuart Meltzer, is helming the production and he insisted that the play offer the same kinds of thrills and chills that drive audiences to movie theaters for horror films.

As he was writing, McKeever was very cognizant of the unique challenges of mounting his play in the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater—without the benefits of multimillion dollar budgets and the computer generated special effects that filmmakers can turn to for their projects.

“It’s all incredibly hard to stage by nature of theatricality, the period, the special effects, fog and blood and all the new elements to deal with. It’s not easy, but then theater isn’t easy,” McKeever said.

McKeever’s job didn’t stop when the script was delivered, he then stepped in to design the set. His intimate vision of the play will certainly come in handy, along with a talented creative team of lighting, props, costumes and special effects designers.

In theater, timing is everything, but the best bit of luck occurred when Zoetic was able to open its season a month early so “Dracula” could premiere during the Halloween season.

Zoetic Stage present’s Michael McKeever’s reimagined “Dracula,” Oct. 11 – 28 in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht Center in Miami. Tickets are $50 at ArshtCenter.org.

           


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