By Doug Wright
Directed by Rob Bundy
THE GRAND GUIGNOL
The Theatre of the Grand Guignol first premiered in 1897, providing Paris with a new genre of entertainment that was, ironically, an outgrowth of naturalism. Grand Guignol seeks to inflame the audience by depicting events that appeal to our rawest and most primal impulses. Grand Guignol plots were culled from real-life events reported in Paris newspapers, and related true tales of incest, patricide, blood lust, sexual anxiety and conflict, loathing of authority, fear of insanity, and a morbid fascination with bodily mutilations and death. Although Grand Guignol was quite popular during its sixty-five year history (ending in 1962) critics and historians tend to dismiss it as a viable artform. Author Mel Gordon (The Grand Guignol, 1988) contends that most theatre scholars have failed to recognize a fundamental point: that at the root of Grand Guignol is a black humor, enthusiastically produced in graphic detail with a flare for melodramatic camp and parody. The grotesqueries and barbarities enacted on the Grand Guignol stage are intended to produce a healthy dose of chills and laughter.
Grand Guignol's influences can readily be seen through nearly every form of entertainment imaginable, from Hollywood horror films of the twenties and thirties to present day television dramas. (The U.S. Postal Service just released stamps commemorating The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Wolf Man, all direct descendants of the Grand Guignol.) Turn on the television and see a modern descendant of Grand Guignol in the programs that graphically depict real-life crimes, like the recently premiered "Brooklyn South". Or visit any amusement park, no matter the size, and you'll always find the fun house or the horror house, offshoots of this theatre genre dedicated to thrills and chills.
THE MARQUIS DE SADE (1740 - 1814)
The word "sadism", referring to sexual perversion involving the infliction of pain, is derived from the name of Donatien-Alphonse-Francois de Sade. He was a French author who, because of his remarkably scandalous life, spent more than 27 years in prison. Most of his works, still considered obscene and unpublishable, were written during his prison years. They include Justine, (published in 1791), Juliette (1798), The 120 Days of Sodom (written in 1785 but not discovered until 1904), Aline and Valcour (1795), Philosophy in the Boudoir (1795), and Crimes of Love (1800). Later writers saw in him an example of the eternal rebel.
Sade was born in June 2, 1740, in Paris. He pursued a military career as a youth during the Seven Years' War (1756-63). He then married, but at the same time began living the scandal-ridden life of a libertine. He was soon convicted of acts of debauchery and sent to prison. Although he was sentenced to death in 1772, he was given a reprieve, after which he fled briefly to Italy. No sooner had he returned to Paris in 1777 than he was again arrested, largely due to the insistence of his mother-in-law. He was imprisoned at Vincennes, in the Bastille in Paris, and finally in the insane asylum at Charenton. From 1790 to 1801 he was free and living in Paris, where he offered several plays to the Comedie-Francaise. In 1801 he was arrested for having written Justine. In 1803 he was confined again to Charenton and remained there until his death on December 2, 1814. Twenty years after his death, Sade's body was exhumed by Phrenologists (enthusiasts of a new science that believed personality traits could be determined by the shape of a person's skull). They found Sade's skull to be that of "a perfect human specimen...similar in all points to that of a Father of a church." The most prominent characteristics of Sade's skull were benevolence and religious faith.
-Columbia University Press and A&E Biography.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Doug Wright's work has been performed at New York Theatre Workshop, the WPA Theater, the Yale Repertory Theatre, Lincoln Center, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the McCarter Theatre, the Cleveland Public Theatre, South Coast Repertory Company, the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, and the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia. His plays have been published by Dramatists Play Service, Heinemann Books New American Plays anthology, The Paris Review, and twice in the Applause Theatre Books Best Short Plays series. Television scripts include five pilots for producer Norman Lear, and teleplays for Hallmark Entertainment and HBO. Film credits include screenplays for Fine Line Features, Fox Searchlight, Talking Wall Pictures, and Dreamworks SKG. Mr. Wright was named a McKnight Fellow for 1995 - 96 by the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, and is a past recipient of the William L. Bradley Fellowship at Yale University, the Charles MacArthur Fellowship at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, an HBO fellowship in playwriting, and the Alfred Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. His play QUILLS, based on the life and writing of the Marquis de Sade, received the 1995 Kesselring Prize for Best New American Play from the National Arts Club, and a Village Voice Obie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting. He has taught playwriting at NYU and Princeton University.
James Belcher (Royer-Collard) appeared in last season's Three Viewings. A 17-year member of Actor's Equity Association, he appeared in numerous productions during his eight years as a resident acting company member with the Alley Theatre. Other credits include performances for the San Antonio, Austin, and Houston Shakespeare Festivals, Theatre Under the Stars, Stages, Theater LaB, and other theaters in Houston and around the country. He has worked on industrial films and in national and regional commercials. Television and film credits include featured roles in The James Brady Story, The Challenger, Sam Houston, and The Man with the Perfect Swing. He holds a BFA in Drama Production from the University of Texas and an MFA in Directing from the University of Houston. Mr. Belcher teaches for Tomball College and Prairie View A&M University.
Bryan Bounds (Prouix / Lunatic) is making his debut appearance at Stages. He has been seen in the productions of Arcadia and Pride and Prejudice at Main Street Theater, as well as in the Houston Shakespeare Festival and the Houston Shaw Festival. Mr. Bounds was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Temple, Texas. He received his MFA in Acting from the University of Texas where he performed in several productions, including his thesis, a solo performance dramatizing the last moments in the mind of Laurence Olivier. Currently he enjoys being an on-camera and voice actor in Houston.
Heather Bryson (Madeleine / Mme. Royer-Collard) is making her debut appearance at Stages. She recently moved to the Houston area from Shreveport, Louisiana where she was involved with a professional acting troupe entitled "The Company." While with "The Company," Ms. Bryson had the opportunity to teach and perform Shakespeare in area high schools. She has appeared in many productions through-out the Shreveport area including Marvin's Room, Red Scare on Sunset, Prelude to A Kiss, Assassins, Little Me, Merrily We Roll Along, Chicago, and Evita. She received her MFA in Acting / Directing at Texas Tech University where she directed a production of the Fantasticks, taught children's theatre, and appeared in such productions as Annie, A Chorus Line, Equus, and A Flea in Her Ear.
Sally Edmundson (Renee) is no stranger to Stages' audiences where she has appeared in The Perfect Party, Laughing Wild, Joe Egg, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Serenading Louie, Coyote Ugly, The Tempest, and Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Last season, Ms. Edmundson was Assistant Director to Mr. Bundy on The Swan and Tango and also directed the winner of the Women's Repertory Project. Regionally, she has performed at Arkansas Repertory Theatre and The Virginia Shakespeare Festival; locally, at Main Street Theater and The Strand in Galveston. She holds degrees in theatre from the University of St. Thomas and French from the University of Texas. Additional training includes the Yale University Summer Classical Training Program in England, as well as the Kristin Linklater Workshop in Boston.
William Hardy (Marquis) appeared at Stages last season in Dog Opera, She Loves Me, and Tango. A native Houstonian, he was a mainstay at the Alley Theatre over a 20-year period, performing in 81 major productions and directing 15. During a ten year New York residency he understudied John Cullum in Boys in Autumn on Broadway, played many of the major regional theatres and appeared in All My Children, One Life to Live, As the World Turns, and Ryan's Hope, and the mini-series Streets of Laredo, and Separate but Equal. Since his return in 1992, he has appeared at the Houston Shakespeare Festival, Alley Theatre, Theatre Under the Stars, and appeared and directed at Galveston Outdoor Musicals. He was also the Founder and Artistic Director of Houston Repertory Theatre. He is married to actress / singer Susan Shofner.
Jerry Miller (Coulmier) was seen previously at Stages in Amphitryon, Hair, Pacific Overtures, March of the Falsettos, and many other productions. Mr. Miller's other Houston venues include Theater LaB, New Heights Theatre, Main Street Theater, and Houston Shakespeare Festival where he performed in Breaking the Code, Vieux Carre, The Mask of Moriarty, Pericles, and other productions too numerous to mention. You can see him in the current Disney feature film, Rocketman, for which he was also the technical adviser. The technical advisory company he founded, STX, is presently advising Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's Species II, as well as the Broadway drama Defying Gravity. Mr. Miller employes his Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering degree as an astronaut trainer and flight controller at NASA.
Director.......... Rob Bundy
Scenic Design.......... Elva Stewart
Lighting Design / Production Consultant.......... Thom Guthrie
Costume Design.......... Rodica Mirea
Sound Designer.......... Douglas Robertson
Composer.......... Norman Noll
Assistant Director.......... Bruce Price
Production Stage Manager.......... Debs Ramser