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.

Meet the Cast: Elyse Ashton

introducing.countess

Elyse Ashton portrays The Countess, arguably the single most mysterious character in the entire story. LeFanu created a very unsettling atmosphere, in part by not answering certain questions. One of these remains the identity of the woman who claims to be Carmilla’s mother.

Tell us about yourself. Who is Elyse Ashton?
As an actress, I lean towards the classics and the bizarre. Some of my fondest theatrical experiences have been working on productions with the Grand Guignolers and Classical Theater Lab.Very different approaches and aesthetics!  I’m an old goth and this girl loves to dance! It’s fun to work those elements into performances  Theatrical life chose me, and every time I get discouraged and want to make a change, I am furiously swatted around by fate. My college degree was in French literature, and my studies led me to seek out and to love more literature written in my native tongue! I am a voracious reader and researcher. Languages, poetry and books fascinate me. As a woman… I like to remain a bit of a mystery!

Were you familiar with Carmilla before becoming involved in this project?
I  am a a big fan of Lefanu’s writings and that’s what drew me to audition for this project.  Lefanu’s home in Merrion square is one of the first places I visited in Dublin. Eighteenth and nineteenth century literature is my escapism, my happy place.  I adore faithful film versions–and sometimes even the bad versions— of these books as well.  In the 80’s I saw a crazy version of Uncle Silas starring Peter O’Toole on Masterpiece Theatre and knew I must search out and read Lefanu’s books. I never thought that Carmilla was done properly on screen, so I have developed very high hopes for this stage production after reading the excellent script.

So what do you think about vampires? Any favorites?

Oh…yes! Since the notion of vampires evolved into the more romantic, well mannered, rake and less the decaying, dirty, stinky versions of the myth over the last two centuries, there have been some lovely vampire characters that send me swooning. I have to go with Tim Power’s The Stress of Her Regard as one of my favorite vampire stories, because he includes some of my beloved romantic poets and even weaves in Lamia by John Keats.  Baudelaire’s The Revenant  is among the poems I recite  before every stage performance.
How are you approaching your role as The Countess?
There isn’t much in the original text, so I am letting my imagination run amok. I like to do a very thorough background. She must have qualities that Carmilla values:  loyalty, seductive charm and the noblesse which allows her to interact credibly with the sort of people with whom Carmilla wishes to make her temporary home.  Perhaps she was an aristocrat without the money to continue her way of life.  The setting of the play, between the wars, makes that a logical back story. She must have been left quite on her own, possibly losing her family in the Great War.  She also has to be a creditable actress.
In the original story, The Countess’ identity remains a total unknown. She claims to be Carmilla’s mother. But what is she? A vampire? A ghost? Some kind of witch allied with vampires? Do you have a theory? 
I haven’t made all my choices concerning The Countess yet. She isn’t Carmilla’s mother.  Carmilla’s mother is a distant memory and would have held some sort of sway over her daughter, which The Countess lacks. there is a line in the story about how the Countess looks at Carmilla with an emotion that was not affection. No maternal bond.  If she were her Carmilla’s mother, they could both insinuate themselves into households and work their spell.  That would be a totally different story!  There is an element fear, I believe, for the Countess in her dealings with Carmilla.  The Countess is dependent upon Carmilla’s favor.  I have not decided yet on the elements of her relationship with the supernatural.  Her powers do not equal Carmilla’s, and I believe there has to be some hope of gain or benefit attached to the Countess. Of course, one meeting with the director and all these theories could go right out the window!
When the audiences leave the theater, how do you hope they’ll be changed?

I hope they’ll be lured into reading Lefanu and other writers of the period, especially after the unsettling yet glorious dreams which Carmilla  is sure to inspire and then come back and see the show again.

Finally, is there a question I didn’t ask you wish I did? If so, what would the answer be?
Were you born in the wrong time?  On the wrong continent?  Yes.  Absolutely! But I’m sure the ideal gorgeous European centuries of my imagination bear little resemblance to the reality. I treasure my modern human rights, medicine, plumbing and technology…but I still like flounce around in frou-frou dresses and tiaras when given the opportunity.

Meet The Cast: Douglas Eames

introducing.spielsdorf

As Dracula has Professor Van Helsing, so Carmilla has her nemesis, Colonel Spielsdorf. Only in this story, the vampire hunter’s motivations prove very personal. Douglas was among the very first people cast, having nailed the role in the most recent reading of an earlier draft.

First, tell me about yourself! Who is Douglas Eames?
I’m a rather free-spirited big kid from New Orleans, Louisiana.  I was always a bit of an outsider growing up: I was an only child and my parents divorced when I was young.  I spent most of that time living with my mother, who moved around a lot, so I was always changing schools and having to adapt to new surroundings.  I found a kind of a Walter Mitty escapism in my imagination — and acting, writing, and drawing were always ways I could channel that.  After I got my BA in communications at Southeastern Louisiana University in the mid-80s, I headed out to LA, where I pursued a career in film and TV.  I got my first break playing a recurring orderly on ABC’s General Hospital in late 1987, and that led to other jobs, including a fun supporting role in cult film director Andy Milligan’s final movie, Surgikill.  Since then, I’ve done some voice-over projects, a lot of freelance writing, and appeared in various plays, minor TV and film roles, and commercials.
And how did you come to end up cast in Carmilla
I’d just finished shooting Mabuse 2: Etiopomar, when I was contacted by our director, Ansel Faraj, who asked if I could participate in a table read in North Hollywood for this playwright he knew.  He said the part I’d be reading was based on the Peter Cushing role in The Vampire Lovers.  I did a little googling and found it on youtube.   I really enjoyed the part, and seeing as how I’d just finished working with several actors from the original Dark Shadows series on Mabuse, it seemed like vampires were a good theme for me!
Had you read the story before or were you familiar with it?
The name was vaguely familiar but the storyline didn’t ring a bell.  So I watched The Vampire Lovers on youtube as Ansel suggested, and realized this was a film my mother had taken me to see at the Showtown Drive-In in Baton Rouge Louisiana when I was about 7 or 8!
Your character, Spielsdorf, how do you see him?
I see Spielsdorf as an extension of my own social ineptitude: he longs to be accepted by his friends, but has a great deal of difficulty keeping his cool and fitting in, given his conflicted nature.  He feels a collection of contradictory emotions.  On the one hand, he’s emotionally ravaged by the loss of his beloved niece to this creature of the underworld, yet on the other, he is a Nazi commander who participates in a system of sociopathic brutality every day.  He’s in charge of a branch of military service related to the study of history and the supernatural, so given his background and his present emotional upheaval, the audience is left to wonder how much of this is his crazed imagination running wild, and how much of what he’s saying is really true.  This is a very fun premise to play with, that unsure grey area between perception and reality!
What do you think is the most surprising thing about him?
The fact that this hardened commander, who oversees injustice on a daily basis, can at once feel so disturbed and torn apart by the death of one of his own.
Is there a particular hope you nurture about your performance?
I hope to strike a balance between Spielsdorf’s ruthlessness and his humanity, to keep the audience guessing about what’s really going on.
For this adaptation, Spielsdorf is a Nazi. An SS officer even! Is there any particular challenge in approaching that aspect of his character?
I think the biggest challenge is to find the humanity, the part inside that wants to be loved and accepted, that part that hits a wall and implodes with him…to bring that out, along with this rage inside him — and, of course, to avoid playing him as Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes!
Finally, is there a question you wished I’d asked? If so, what would be the answer?
Your questions seemed to cover all the basics! Just that I’m very happy to be a part of the production and having the opportunity to work with such a gifted cast!

Things To Avoid Adapting CARMILLA

Having watched all but two filmed adaptations of Carmilla (there’s a French television one from the 1980s haven’t tracked down yet, and a lost BBC version from the 1960s), I feel qualified answering this question: What should anyone adapting LeFanu’s work avoid?

CryptV10The most obvious two things to avoid are pervasive in pretty much every single film version ever made. First, giving Laura a suitable male romantic interest. Why not? First and foremost, it completely alters the dynamic of what happens. A lonely girl growing up surrounded by much older adults in an obscure part of a foreign country must become a different person if she has a boyfriend. How not? Part of the seductive power of Carmilla herself lies in how she remains an outsider. Laura cannot help but feel the same way–she has no siblings, no playmates, not even a mother to teach her how to become a young woman. LeFanu’s description (through an unaware Laura’s eyes) tells of a home equal parts empty yet suffocating. Anyone functioning as a Prince Charming alters this. Instead of escape then, Carmilla becomes nothing but an invader, diminishing the layers of ambiguity. Yet that very ambiguity gives the story its power! Power here is key. Laura has none. But a brutal truth which explains something of the attraction Laura feels for Carmilla is that, in love, the one who loves least has all the power. In this case, that one is Laura.

vampire_lovers053Mind you, were Laura more-or-less betrothed to someone against her will, that might work very well. Providing her would-be paramour remains not her choice. On the same basis, we the audience need to understand why she doesn’t want this person. Which means creating an entirely new character (or altering an existing one–turning the elderly Colonel Spielsdorf into a younger man for example). I’m anything but opposed to that. But–does it achieve anything worth the trouble?

Possibly. However, that becomes a different topic.

The second most common mistake made is essentially to rob Laura of a personality. This highlights why Carmilla remains (at least in my humble opinion–okay, not soooo humble) a feminist classic. Western society assigns certain traits to different genders. Allowing women, for example, to display traditionally masculine traits becomes thus ground-breaking. Bravo to Buffy The Vampire Slayer! And Clarice Starling, River Song, Lara Croft, etc.!

Angel-Buffy-Shows-vampires-15859991-610-745On the other hand, therein lies a trap (one addressed by Caryl Churchill in one of my favorite plays of the XXth century, Top Girls). If we value women only when they behave like stereotypical men have we really accomplished much? Laura in Carmilla is by no stretch of the imagination a tough grrrrl or A-type personality. One might easily call her a waif. This invokes the stereotype of “mindless doll” which, in turn, degrades a big percentage of the human race. Male as well as female.

Writers do face a dilemma with Laura. She seems to take little or no action. Emphasis on “seems.”

This dilemma vanishes once you accept an essential fact about the story–the “action” consists of Laura’s emotions, just as the “setting” is Laura’s mind. Her feelings, her awareness of events, her reactions to people and events–this makes up the stuff of the story. When about ourselves, it also makes up the bulk of our own. How not? But then we face another dilemma–isn’t fiction supposed to be more exciting that real life? Yes, it should. Hence emphasizing the mystery and eroticism of the tale is the way to go, rather than artificially stapling onto Carmilla all kinds of action-adventure tricks.

617183_475726369125722_1254493957_oThat, not incidentally, makes for yet another trick to avoid in any adaptation–what I call copying Bram Stoker (or James Bond) . In a nutshell, folks who want to fit the story of Laura and Carmilla into a different kind of dynamic than the one it already is! Instead of drama, romance, addiction, mystery, eroticism and subtle horror they look for thrills and chills, action and adventure, heroics and daring-do. Consider Crypt of the Living Dead as well The Vampire Lovers, both of whom focus on the menfolk rushing against time to find the vampire’s lair and destroy her, thus saving the ingenue from a fate worse than death! Blood and Roses at least mixes this up a bit by having them fail, but never realizing it. One very cheap adaptation adds the thrill of Laura’s sister and husband trying to flee a small New England town transformed by Carmilla into a nest of the undead (very Salem’s Lot).

What none of these do is tell the story in LeFanu’s novella. He has Laura recount what happened about a decade after the fact (to whom remains unclear, but internal evidence suggests an older woman from a city). Doesn’t take much to realize she’s an unreliable narrator given her (subtle) contradictions and omissions. In the Victorian Era, what we see as little more than mild hints they viewed as akin to hardcore pornography. Much as with The Turn of the Screw, Picnic at Hanging Rock, even The Usual Suspects, a huge amount of background remains tantalizingly unclear. The major mistake folks generally make in adapting this story is avoiding the heart of what the author originally created.

Mind you the Polish television version from the 1980s and the upcoming independent film Styria (that I’ve had the good fortune to see) manage to avoid these mistakes quite neatly.

Hopefully, so have I!