Darren Callahan, director and playwright, filed this report from the front lines of the 2010 Dionysos Cup festival, coming this May 13th through May 23rd from Polarity Ensemble Theatre.
Death! Devils! No, this is not a posting about one of the horror plays that I’ve sorta-kinda gotten known for in the Chicago theatre scene (such as Horror Academy or The White Airplane.) In fact, this isn’t one of my plays at all – I’m just the lowly director. But, don’t worry, as P.T. Anderson once famously declared: There Will Be Blood.
Death & Devils is G. Riley Mills’ exceptional true-life drama about early 20th century charlatan John R. Brinkley. Settling in Kansas with his wife Minnie and his faithful shill Dwight Osborne, Brinkley made millions during the Great Depression. He sold snake oil, built a hospital, published, traveled, ran for Governor, and, not to be overlooked, became known for a suspect medical procedure that cured nearly every ill, a procedure that was particularly known as a cure for male impotence. It’s an absolutely terrific fall-from-grace story in the big tradition of Citizen Kane or All The King’s Men.
As the Dionysos Cup has many dozens of scripts submitted, I was lucky enough to read Death & Devils early in the process and nominate it up. I was absolutely thrilled to snag it when it made the final four. Old fashioned, muscular drama was always something I favored, and I couldn’t ask for a more dynamic and professional script to helped develop.
And the cast. Oh, I got lucky here, too.
Kevin Stark plays the charismatic Brinkley. I saw him in How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found and was blown away. He was one of those actors you can’t stop watching, and you miss when he’s not onstage. I had hoped for a chance to work with him and I’m just glad it came about so soon.
Then there’s Kaela Altman, playing Brinkley’s wife, Minnie. Kaela was in Horror Academy and literally kicked ass. She shot someone with a pistol with her hand stuck in a desk. She shot through a desk, my God! Through a desk! While crying! (Very believably, I should add.)
Ryan Ben as Dwight Osborne is the perfect mix of everyman appeal and dark humor. He was in my slasher film, Spikes, and is very adept at scaring the crapola out of people, should it come to that.
Turk Muller and Justin Cagney play the dueling lawyers who handle the climactic courtroom showdown with the same intense magic as Inherit the Wind, or Anatomy of a Murder. I love a play that ends in a courtroom – did I mention that? (I even enjoy Bob Clark’s late 80s film From The Hip, with Judd Nelson, for that very reason. So sue me.)
Charley Jordan, longtime Polarity Ensemble Member and Polonius in their acclaimed revival of Hamlet, rocks as pig farmer Bill Stittsworth, Brinkley’s first patient. I basically needed someone who looks like he could intimidate Kevin Stark, and I think I found ‘em.
Zach Uttich is new to Chicago and hasn’t stopped working. That dude is cast in everything. That should tell you something. He plays a multitude of roles here. Lauren Fisher was in acclaimed The Hopper Project for WNEP. And Alex Meyerchin plays one hell of a singing cowboy.