I was very fortunate to be invited to view a walk-through of the current stage production of Clive Barker’s Revelations at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood last week. Part of the ongoing Living Room Series for The Blank Theatre, this promised to be a unique event. I was forewarned that the show would contain unfinished special effects and limited set decoration, and that this would be the production in a very raw form. As a lifelong Clive Barker fan, I was of course familiar with the short story (which was originally published in the Books of Blood collection in the early 1980’s), and very excited to see it adapted before my eyes.
For those not acquainted with the story, your first assignment would be to get out there and do your Horror Homework and get yourself a copy of the classic collection from a master. Among many other incredible and unique stories included in that volume, readers will find the story Revelations as one of the most memorable. It revolves around a real fire-and-brimstone preacher named John Gyer and his wife hunkering down in a hotel room the night a severe storm approaches. Thirty years prior, in the very same hotel room, a free spirit named Sadie Durning became a local legend when she gunned down her abusive husband, Buck. As the story progresses, the preacher’s wife Virginia begins to see them more and more clearly, and events escalate quickly.
The version I saw ran for about 75 minutes, and was thoroughly enjoyable. The actors all attacked their roles with great gusto, especially Bruce Ladd as the ferocious preacher and Meredith Thomas as Sadie, the wicked woman with a good heart in spite of it all. The pace of the production was brisk and fascinating, the well-written dialogue alternates expertly between funny and chilling. As they nervously look out the windows at the approaching storm, they are looking directly at the audience in a convincing and clever touch. The drama is all there, and a solitary hotel room is the perfect setting to use for maximum claustrophobic and haunting effect. When the violence explodes suddenly and loudly, it was difficult to not feel like you were right there in the middle of the tragic events.
This promises to be an exciting production to keep an eye on for the future. I had the chance to catch up with writer James Michael Hughes and director Rhys McClelland and asked them a few questions about this fascinating project, which they were generous enough to enlighten us about.
Please enjoy the interview below :
I understand this story was originally optioned as a film project. If that is true, what led to it being developed as a stage play? Are there any plans to eventually get this story on screen?
JAMES: My original intent was to adapt “Revelations” as a feature film or a TV pilot for an anthology series. Clive had given me informal permission to adapt his short story way back when I was attending the UCLA School of Film, Theatre and Television. That informal permission was for my graduate thesis only.
As years passed, “Revelations” continued to haunt me. When I was ready to revisit the idea of adapting “Revelations” as a film, someone beat me to it! Mark Miller, Clive’s Development VP informed me that the rights were not available. So I didn’t have the opportunity to option “Revelations” as a feature film. But out of sheer determination, I came up with the idea to present “Revelations” as a stage play. It seemed a logical choice. Given the location, characters and conflict, the story would lend itself well as a live production. I proposed the idea to Clive via letter and he called me, left a voice message, and said my idea was brilliant. And the adventure began.
What was/is the extent of Clive Barker’s personal involvement in this production?
JAMES: I wrote many drafts of “Revelations” over a period of time without Clive’s creative contribution. I received notes from development executives and conducted table reads with professional actors to help transfer Clive’s story into an effective dramatic stage play. Once I constructed a draft that I was happy with, I sought out a stage director. That director was Rhys McClelland. Once Rhys was on board, together we developed the script until it was ready to present to Clive Barker.
Clive and his development executives have been involved with many of the creative changes that were made for the stage adaptation. I would receive all their notes, compiled with Clive’s, make revisions, submit and receive more notes. We would also have story meetings at Clive’s home where we would discuss all the story points that needed attention. That has been our process. Efficient. Clear. Effective.
Clive has been amazingly supportive and generous. He also knows what he wants and what will work. He is a true artist in the sense he allows me to use my imagination and fly.
What kind of special effects and/or set changes can the audience expect to see in the final version of the play?
RHYS: The full production would bring huge changes! But mostly in how the play uses light and shadow. We are exploring the use of shadow at the moment to create set and shapes onstage that can move and shift with changes in lighting, think theater-noir…
In terms of special effects we have decided the simpler the better. We are interested in the type of very effective but subtle effects that exploit the gaps in perception and play with the mind…so think street magician instead of David Copperfield.
The performances I saw were all very strong and convincing. Was there any difficulty in deciding how to portray the “ghosts” with live actors?
RHYS: This is something we needed a workshop for, to explore how this would work. I think we made some choices this week that will help in the future but it will need to go further.
Ordinarily in a performance the director would be making sure that everyone is presenting the same performance style…however with “Revelations” that isn’t the case. We want to make the ghosts as human as possible but at the same time have those actors portray an entirely different energy to the rest of the cast…this would be in their movement, their vocal tones and in the broadness of their character.
Ultimately we want to honor Clive Barker’s ability to write two worlds that exist close together but have very different energies…on stage that could work with 2 different performance styles happening at once and creating cognitive dissonance for the audience.
Finally, please let the readers know what they can expect from the final production, in your own words, if you can.
RHYS: Audiences can expect an exciting ghost story, a passionate story of two women from different times who find a powerful relationship in very unusual circumstances. They can expect to see an evolution of the short story, while being faithful to Clive Barker’s original vision.
The audience can expect some dark humor and some challenging theological questions and ultimately a thrill ride.
We are making this piece because we love Clive Barker’s work and this story screams ‘play’ from the page…it had to be made into a live action event and we feel so blessed that we get to do it…we get to step into this world of John Gyer and Virginia, to see her evolution into a psychic and go on the journey with her in real time…we get to play with Sadie Durning! To bring her to life and ask her questions about why she did what she did…being fans of Clive Barker who wouldn’t want to see some of his characters come to life before their eyes? (I did say ‘some’)
So, there you have it ; our iHorror exclusive look at a great project in development.
With any luck, we will see the final production of this great story performed live before the end of the year!
For updates about this project in the future, stay tuned to the Clive Barker’s Revelations : A Stage Play Facebook page, and check in on the website of The Blank Theatre often for news and updates about all kinds of cool upcoming productions.