Meet The Cast: Irwin Moskowitz

 

introducing.peddlerA character often omitted from LeFanu’s story is the peddler, the first to suspect there’s perhaps something odd about Laura’s visitor.

So tell me about yourself. Who is Irwin Moskowitz?

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I spent many Saturday afternoons at the movies.  And I watched every movie I could back in the day when there were only three channels.  Among the many films I watched were the early talkies including Dracula and Frankenstein.  I like to point out that the budget on the original Dracula was so small, it did not include music/soundtrack.  See it today and there’s no music, like Hitchcock’s The Birds.  But I digress.   A movie lover from the get-go, guilty as charged.

At the U. of Pittsburgh,  I majored in Psychology and Theater, getting great “college” theatrical acting experience including playing assorted characters in Spoon River Anthology and other roles both on the main stage at the Stephen Foster Memorial and the black box of its time, the Studio Theater.
I moved to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated from Pitt and hoped to land a big show business gig.  Still waiting for that to happen, I decided to be “practical” and got an MBA from UCLA.  My class had quite a few “artistic” students in the Business School, and we put on a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  I got to play Charlie Brown.  Sweet.  I put aside my acting career and worked in Marketing, Brand Identity, Real Estate and Banking.  I sat in the audience for years thinking what I shoulda, coulda and woulda but dinta.
Flash forward to four years ago when I became ill, so I became an extra.   Mostly awful work, to be sure.   I said we were potted plants the production was required to feed.  Real potted plants, unfortunately, got more respect than the extras.  But, I got to work on sets and see how tv shows/movies are made.  Very, very slowly.  Feeling better and with all my extra work (ha!) under my belt, I auditioned for theater productions in LA and got cast.  I had a leading role in A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding which ran for six months.  Most recently, I played President Harry Truman in Presidential Suite in NOHO.  I love theater work.  It’s tough, yet wonderfully rewarding.   I liken the thrill of going onstage to what a skier must sense when he takes off down the mountain, only more dangerous.
Next up, Carmilla!

I already know the answer, but how did you come to be involved in Carmilla?

Answering an Actor’s Access call for Carmilla, I auditioned for the role of Laura’s father and other characters, including The Peddler.  Carmilla’s story has moved to 1938 Austria prior to the onset of WWII.   To me, The Peddler (“Carlsberg”), represents a minority figure unlikely to survive the war.   He must do what he can to survive in a hostile, cruel environment, yet provides some humor in the melodrama.  I like to paraphrase Stanislavsky…There are no small parts, only small paychecks.

Were you at all familiar with the story before this?

I was not at all familiar with Carmilla or its story line prior to my audition.  I’d seen countless productions of all types involving vampires, but this is my first time actually working in one.

Are you a particular fan of gothic or vampire fiction?

Who doesn’t love vampire and gothic horror stories/films?  I’d seen the early B&W films on the Late Late Show, called Academy Theater in Pittsburgh, during the dark ages.  Also saw the Hammer films of the sixties, with Christoper Lee, for one, in living color.   The vampire renaissance likely started in the Seventies with Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire, but the number of films, et. al., about vampires since then are countless.  And now they’re on TV/cable and popular.  If anything can distract most people from their daily lives/grinds, it’s vampires.  What if?  If Only?  Wouldn’t that be_________________________?  Fill in the blank.  Plus, vampires are sexier than most antagonists so they’ve got that going for them, in addition to living forever.  You call that living?  No days, only nights.   Can’t imagine they make a Serta PerfectSleeper to fit a coffin.  You have to imagine your hair looks ok because you can’t see your reflection in a mirror.  And, although most everyone likes garlic, let’s be reasonable.   And who delivers blood when you’re hungry/thirsty?  You have to get your own!  Or have “people” get it for you.  Like assistants.   It’s gotta be a tough life, or whatever.

You’ve made an interesting contribution to the script itself since being cast. Care to tell that story?

Getting cast as The Peddler, I suggested that he have a name.  To my great delight, David Blue chose “Carlsberg” as his character’s name.  Not only does a name enable an actor to create a backstory, this character represents a vast number of individuals preyed upon, tortured and destroyed by people and situations worse than vampires.  Austria in 1938 was unlikely a center of fine art, culture and waltzes, certainly not to people like Carlsberg.
Describe your reactions so far to this production.
It’s exciting to be part of a world premiere production of an original play based upon literature more than a century old.  I’d heard of LaFanu and there have been films/plays based upon his work.  That’s a trip.  So looking forward to it!
Finally, is there any question you wished I’d asked? If so, what is it? And what is your answer?

No.

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Meet the Cast: Lara Bond

introducing.laura

Lara Bond plays the lead in Carmilla, the young woman telling her tale of what happened when a beautiful visitor came to her father’s home.

First off, tell me about yourself. Who is Lara Bond?
Questions like this always befuddle me. I don’t quite know how to answer them. On paper, Lara is a young woman living in the late part of the 20th century, early part of the 21st century. She is a person of multiple backgrounds, giving her a unique view of the world and it’s people.

Though her passport is American, her hair-Moroccan, she will always be a Berliner.

She enjoys the arts and sciences, and doesn’t really care about much else. She loves animals and people—when they’re being civil.

And how did you come to be involved in this production?
I was cast in a production directed by Vanessa Cate, the actress playing Carmilla. I had seen her work on stage before and was excited to get to work with her. It was Vanessa that invited me to the auditions for Carmilla.

Were you familiar with Carmilla before this?
I remember hearing the title or name of the character over the years, but never read or heard the story. I was excited to find out that it was an inspiration for Dracula.

What do you think of your character, Laura?
I am fascinated by her isolation and calm, deep spirit. Also, her ability to open herself up so willingly to Carmilla, especially when she’s had such few people to connect with. Their relationship is a very mystical one.

Is there a particular challenge in your mind to playing this part?
I am excited to explore the idea of standing in different time periods during the play. How to be in the present time, recounting the past, and then be in that past story experiencing it for the first time. Also, the relationship between Laura and Carmilla is going to be an amazing challenge because it is so layered. It is a bond of friendship and sisterhood and yet has an otherworldly, seductive, deep love in it. There is a sense of these two being entwined by destiny. I think it’s important for the audience to feel this connection and perhaps to feel enwrapped in it with them.

Generally, how do you feel about vampires and vampire stories? Do you have a favorite?
I LOVE vampire stories. Everything about them, including the history of the folklore, the setting in eastern Europe, the idea of the undead, the immortal. All of it is fascinating to me. I’ve been a fan of vampire stories since I was a kid. I religiously listened to a German series of books on tape called The Little Vampire, a story about a young boy who befriends a young vampire boy. Most of my Halloween costumes growing up were vampire costumes, the occasional witch or Wednesday Adams, but vampires were always the trusty go to. Even in college…See below.

I really love the film Interview with a Vampire. I was about 12 when I saw it the first time and while it was gory and I was scared, I though it was so beautiful and really captured what it must feel like to be a vampire. I’m also a big fan of Coppola’s Dracula and Joss Whedon’s Buffy and Angel series.

Basically, I adore vampire lore but I do believe first and foremost the story has to be great. I think I connect more to vampires than other creatures in the horror genre because there is such an element of beauty and mystery to them. They’re not your average undead “monster”… But I guess a hardcore werewolf or zombie fanatic would say the same thing.

How do you want audiences to respond to Laura specifically, and to the production in general?
I want the audience to understand her and to feel her solitude. Even relate to it. The fact that Carmilla is the first person that Laura has gotten this close to, that they have a mysterious bond, I hope will be a journey for them, as it is for Laura. She’s not a victim of her circumstance but is, one could say, chosen.

Finally, is there any question you will I’d asked? And what would your answer be?
If you were given the choice to die or become a vampire, what would you do?  Vampire. Definitely. I’d try to get a job in special effects.

Previous Carmillas: “Blood and Roses”

Blood and roses-LocadinaI have seen every single filmed version of Carmilla with two exceptions–the BBC one from the 1960s (starring Jane Merrow, almost certainly lost) and the French t.v. miniseries from the 1980s (still looking for).

Blood and Roses, directed by Roger Vadim, one would think might prove rather faithful to the original. At least we Americans have that impression of European filmmakers.  In fact it varies quite a bit. One gets the sense–not for the last time–LeFanu’s tale ended up as little more than a partial inspiration for somebody else’s story.

Which doesn’t mean this translated into a bad film! Hardly!

Vadim’s flick to a real extent relies on the vampire’s POV, initially from her grave where she sleeps, waiting for the right series of events for her resurrection. As such she seems to spy voyeur-like upon the modern Karnstein family.  Just like the audience in fact! Of course, that is an English-language addition. The uncut, BloodandRoses11untampered original contains far more ambiguity, thus matching LeFanu more in tone if not plot.

We meet Leopoldo De Karnstein (the story has been moved to post WW2 Italy), and his cousin Carmilla (a lookalike to reputed vampire ancestress) who moodily watches Leopoldo announce his engagement to her friend Georgia.  We’re also told of the vampire legend, of Mircalla who married her cousin Leopold but died and then seemed to devour every young lady Leopold sought to wed for the rest of his life. Carmilla goes wandering into the family tombs on the grounds of an abandoned monastery or convent. She camp0209-01encounters what seems to be the vampire’s tomb, screams, and emerges from the ruins somehow different. She hovers near Georgia in all kinds of semi-erotic situations, while the latter has an amazing dream about them both. Local girls begin dying suddenly. People begin to fear a vampire! Carmilla herself seems to die falling on a farming machine, but a hint continues that perhaps…just perhaps…her soul has transferred to Georgia. She has her Leopold again.

blood and roses_smThe biggest praise I can offer this film remains its look and atmosphere, all of which help recreate the odd sense of mystery the novella possesses. Even the famous costume worn by Mel Ferrar as Leopoldo, with its sweeping Renaissance cape and winged bat mask, highlights how tables are being turned. The vampire here is not a dashing Dracula-esque male, but the pretty blonde. He is in a real sense her victim, as she seems to consume the woman he loves. On the other hand, how come he never notices? Likewise, as lovely a presence as Annette Vadim may be, her Georgia comes across as a cookie cutter ingenue. Why should bloodandrosesstakecopy6Leopold notice a complete change in her personality, after all? The man doesn’t pay any attention to such things. Was Vadim himself commenting on this, or simply buying into a subtly mysoginistic formula?

Either way, the whole story becomes something different by shifting focus away from the female victim of the vampire and their relationship. Making it about a rivalry for the same man hardly echoes LeFanu’s themes of the feminine versus masculine. Rather it tumblr_latqc8EwUN1qa95wro1_500places the Male at center stage, not only as far as power in this world but in terms of value, plot and motivation.

Also, I’m left with wondering why the update? Financially it makes more sense rather than making a costume drama, of course. That seems logical, if unfortunate. Yet I see no justification in the script for moving the story about a century forward — save perhaps to juxtapose our modern rational world with that of a mystical past? That would be cool, and I don’t mind it.

Remember, if you want to help bring a brand new, erotic and disturbing as well as faithful version of Carmilla to the stage, just click on this fundraising link!

Is Carmilla Evil?

from 'The Blood Spattered Bride'

from ‘The Blood Spattered Bride

A friend of mine recently ranted about a dichotomy in modern vampire fiction. On the one hand we see the Byronic immortal longing to find true love. Then we find the human-shaped sharks with just enough humanity to be cruel. Easy to find examples, really. Look at Edward Cullen from Twilight, Barnabas Collins in all the many incarnations of Dark Shadows, Countess Marya Zeleska in the film Dracula’s Daughter as well as the title character in Varney the Vampyre. Then take a gander at The Lost Boys, at the creatures in 30 Days of Night or From Dusk Till Dawn.

What’s most interesting, though, are those undead characters about whom folks argue. The ones who don’t seem totally one way or the other. At least, not to everyone.

013

Let Me In

An obvious recent example–Abby in the motion picture Let Me In. This is the English-language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s brilliant novel Let The Right One In about an eerie and somehow touching relationship between a misfit little boy and the child vampire who moves next door. The American film starred actress Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby, the vampire.  Reviewers almost immediately drew up into two camps about her character. One saw Abby as a lonely child who hated being alone and found a friend/love/companion in Owen (played by Kody Smitt-McPhee). The other looked at the exact same performance and saw an immensely clever animal, a manipulator of vast skill pressing all the right buttons to recruit a new slave.

600full-scars-of-dracula-screenshot(Lindqvist confirms Carmilla inspired his own vampire story, not incidentally.)

Dracula himself has seen the same debate played out. Some insist the Count must only be a vicious predator of great charisma, much as Christopher Lee portrayed him in all those Hammer horror movies. Others prefer a more tragic characterization, far more like Gary Oldman in the Francis Ford Coppola film.

So which do I prefer? More importantly, which choice did I make when writing my own version of Carmilla?

Essentially, both.  One of the problems I have with most versions of the story is how they see Carmilla herself as an unremitting predator and really nothing

Nightmare Classics

Nightmare Classics

much else.  Apart from anything else, that surely makes for the least interesting choice possible. More, I would posit the story itself does not back that up. Consider how Carmilla resists feeding on Laura for nearly a month after she arrives. If you examine the times given, you’ll learn Carmilla did not wait so when targeting Berthe, an earlier victim. More, she even suggests leaving early, before starting to drink Laura’s blood! Seems like a case of mixed feelings to me, between conflicting desires.

Something else to consider–an issue LeFanu brings up in that subtle, intriguing way he has. When Carmilla is not visiting young women to feast upon their blood, where is she? She’s evidently not alone. We know she has an older female companion who says she’s the girl’s mother, complete with coachman who seem unpleasant in a quite visceral manner. The Polish television version actually hints

German play

German play

they might be dead people (a nice touch). Certainly they do not seem very pleasant company.

Might it not make sense Carmilla feels lonely? Might long for some more congenial company with which to spend the centuries?

Frankly, this leads to another question, at least as far as I’m concerned. Compare in your mind’s eye how the visit to Laura’s home might seem to Carmilla as opposed to where she usually spends her time? A beautiful home, with pleasant company, everyone treating her exactly like an ordinary human girl. She can pretend to be alive. Can brush the hair of this girl she evidently finds so very attractive.

Drusilla-Spike-Angel-promotional-images-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-12513398-2073-2560

Drusilla and Spike

At heart–and I’ve seen this even in the process of collaborative writing–I don’t agree with the premise of “Oh well, she’s a vampire so she must be evil!” For one thing, what a vague concept! What does one mean by evil? I usually get the impression they presume vampirism infects people with sociopathy.  This even makes some kind of sense sometimes, as in The Strain where the entire nervous system restructures itself–or Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the soul leaves the victim to be replaced by a demon. But even then, the most interesting vampires nearly always end up those who retain or regain some aspect of their humanity. Drusilla is still mad, after all. Spike makes for a far more fascinating character than The Master.

So that governed how I wrote the title character. Yes, she’s a vampire. A monster who preys upon other human beings. A predator who must have found some way to emotionally ‘live’ with her means of survival. Certainly capable of great ruthlessness. Yet…also capable of affection, loneliness, regret, even love. I also frankly suspect has a deep melancholy streak that surfaces when the funeral of her victim strays into view.

“Everyone must die! And all are happier when they do!”

That line speaks volumes, or at least it does to me.

Cast of the Reading!

295336_10151267312624506_13668514_nBack in July 2013 we had a reading of my play Carmilla. It proved a thrilling experience, which led in turn to a lot of improvements in the text. Now, I’d like to introduce you to some (albeit not quite all) of the wonderful folks who took part!

Amelia Gotham read both Laura and Carmilla at different times. I first saw her in The Turn of the Screw at the Visceral, a part for which she won an award. She has since won another for her role in Sherlock Through the Looking Glass. She wowed me at the time and wowed me again from the first word she uttered. Honestly she leaves me in a bit of awe.

Copy of 47350_1583450588655_5450894_nVanessa Cate read Carmilla and the Countess. She’s been in many shows, the first I saw being Hamlet. But since then she’s also starred in, directed and written numerous plays including Urban Death and Fragments of Oscar Wilde as well as A Down & Dirty Christmas Cabaret and the upcoming Kamikaze (a one woman show). She’s got an amazing stage presence as well as an unusual gravitas for someone her age. Plus a wicked sense of humor that radiates from her like heat!

amirAmir Khalighi read the part of Captain Martin (and if you don’t recognize the name from the novel–well, I’ll explain later). He’s a wonderful actor I’ve seen in such plays as Much Ado About Nothing and Whore’s Bath. Now he’s directing a show coming up about the poet Rumi, titled Rumination. He played a crucial role in organizing the Reading, even offering up his home as possible location. We didn’t have to go that far, but the offer meant a great deal.

mark.hein002Mark Hein , who read the part of Fontaine (Laura’s father) has become a good friend. He’s been a teacher at Pierce College, a performer in dozens of plays, most recently in To Kill a Mockingbird and before that in Urban Death. He’s also directed lots of plays and will now be directing another!  He has a quiet power on stage, and it doesn’t hurt that he understood in his bones pretty much precisely what I trying to do with the script!

douglas.eamesDouglas Eames came recommended by a film director friend, and I was very much impressed. He portrayed Colonel Spielsdorf, the “vampire hunter” of the story and in many ways the spiritual ancestor of Van Helsing (Dracula was published a full quarter century after LeFanu’s work). He captured the rather tricky ‘air’ and manner of how I re-imagined Spielsdorf (as an SS Officer in 1938) extremely well.

lili.bordanLili Bordan played Laura at one point and the rest of the time she played Madame Perradon (for which she is actually far too young and glamorous). Had the enormous good fortune to see her in The Shawl by David Mamet and we had a lovely conversation about theater and acting afterwards.  Having expressed interest in my play, she ended up invited to the reading where she did a splendid job! Really. I was very impressed (but then, having seen her work, I was not surprised).

sebastian.munozSebastian Munoz is an actor and director I’ve seen before, mostly as a director for shows like Attack of the Rotting Corpses as well as Captain Dan Dixon vs. The Moth Sluts from the 5th Dimension (which was really too much fun!). His most recent performance that I’ve seen was one of an ensemble in a Poe-laden work in North Hollywood simply dubbed The Raven. Honestly I was thrilled to see it! And it hasn’t surprised me how many of his shows have ended up extended! He did a very fine job in the important role of The Peddler.

To be fair, several others helped out as well, some of them doubling for various roles. But these folks played the major roles. Others who helped out included Tyler McAuliffe, Redetha Deason and Stephanie Bergman Kalighi (the latter two beautiful women Amir and Sebastian have the incredible good luck to love and be loved in return). Tyler read Mr. Fontaine, Redetha the Countess, and Stephanie also read the Countess. Everyone did a fine job with reading, but more importantly they gave invaluable feedback. Revisions that followed–which made the play better in quite tangible ways–arose from their shared perceptions and thoughts.

Cannot thank any of them enough!

Put Carmilla On Stage!

template2thumbPut Carmilla On Stage!

In 1872, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu published an important piece of gothic literature, the novella Carmilla. Not only did it influence many works that came after it from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw to Jon Alvide Linqvist’s Let the Right One In, but it created a new subgenre.

The Lesbian Vampire Story.

Now an adaptation of this seminal (or should that be “ovarian”?) work is on its way to the Los Angeles theatre scene. One that adds to this atmospheric, erotic nightmare the one thing it was lacking.

Nazis.