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Prolific SoFla Playwright Premieres 'Dracula'

A Conversation With Michael McKeever


Carlos Orizondo, Isabella Lopez, Photo by Chris Headshots.

Photographer:

Carlos Orizondo, Isabella Lopez, Photo by Chris Headshots.

Michelle F. Solomon, FFCC, ATCA

Zoetic Stage opens the world premiere of South Florida playwright Michael McKeever's new play "Dracula" inside the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center on Friday.

And it's definitely vampire with a twist, a modern take on a classic story, if you will.

Here's the plot of prolific McKeever's 29th (or is it 30th, he isn't sure) play. It’s 1897, Jonathan Harker and his fiancée Mina Murray are welcoming Count Dracula from Transylvania. From that point on, nothing is what you’d expect it to be.

According to the press notes,using Bram Stoker’s novel as starting point, McKeever has reinvented the gothic horror tale with a feminist point of view and created female characters that not only stand up to the title character, but eventually overcome him.

Our "talking with" finds out what makes McKeever and this "Dracula" tick.

Carlos Orizondo, Lindsey Corey, Photo by Chris Headshots.

Photographer:

Carlos Orizondo, Lindsey Corey, Photo by Chris Headshots.

miamiartzine: "Dracula." That's an interesting subject to take on. How did you pick this classic tale to turn into a play?

Michael McKeever: I've always loved the Dracula story and it lent itself to a production. I've been talking for awhile with Stuart (Meltzer, producing artistic director of Zoetic Stage and McKeever's husband) about doing a stage production, but we couldn't find a reason. What would make Dracula different? And then the #metoo movement happened last year and it was like 'That's it!' Dracula is the ultimate predator and the women in the story are victims to lure Dracula, and then the heroes come in and save the day. Well, what if I make the women the heroes? Let's start out with a classic "Dracula" story, then half way through, let's start twisting it where Dracula and the world in which he lives represents rich old white men of today and how women are treated. Have the revolution start right there in that story! And, I reinvent Van Helsing: Instead of a white man I made him a powerful African American woman.

maz: And then you're rehearsing and there's all this news with Bill Cosby getting sentenced, the year anniversary of Harvey Weinstein's indiscretions, and, of course, the Brett Kavanaugh situation?

MM: Yes, this 100 year old story comes into the Daily News limelight. It was a little creepy that the play was written already and at the same time it was 'wow!' that this was inspired by what's happening in the news. The truth is that tragically things don't change much.

maz: How long did it take you to write your "Dracula?"

MM: I've been writing it and rewriting it in my head for well over five years. Earlier this year, is when I put pen to paper and really giving it the themes I wanted to address. Then, getting it in the room with a bunch of wonderful actors and a good director, I find that a lot of the really good work gets done that way, too. You know, there's never enough time to put a world premiere together, so it's constantly being developed and changing in the rehearsal room.

maz: Do you have to get rights to use the Stoker characters?

Karen Stephens, Carlos Orizondo, Photo by Chris Headshots.

Photographer:

Karen Stephens, Carlos Orizondo, Photo by Chris Headshots.

MM: Dracula has been told so many times and it's in the public domain, plus the story is well over 100 years old. I'm using the original story as an inspiration, and characters as a guide or basis as inspiration.

maz: What's it like to be able to work with Zoetic Stage to create your vision from the ground up?

MM: I remember (playwright) Tina Howe, back almost 20 years ago, was in Key West, and she said to me, 'What you guys have down here. There's this great safe place that you can work with people who know your work, and know you; where you are able to explore work and make the work the best it can possibly be.' I am very lucky to have that in all South Florida, but especially with Zoetic. Stuart and I speak shorthand when we are working on a new piece. It's part of Zoetic's mission, too, to develop new work, so there's a very specific importance given, and there's that dedication to making a new work as good as it can possibly be.

maz: What's the future of your "Dracula?"

MM: Right now, we're just working to get it on stage. And put the vision that we all have for it out front. This week, we had to make decisions, such as if we should keep the flying bat, or put our resources into how best to use the stake in the heart effect!

There have been a couple of theaters who have expressed interest in it because "Dracula" is a title that sells. Already it's become one of the fastest selling shows that we've had at Zoetic. The hope is that once we get it ready that other theaters will pick it up and the show will have a full life.

"Dracula" opens at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts Carnival Studio Theater, Friday, Oct. 12 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $55. For information, www.arshtcenter.org.

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