I own a CD containing “The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman.” So when I walked into the performance space at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and heard Franz Waxman’s music from The Bride of Frankenstein playing — while a title card that looked like it was from a silent movie was being projected on the screen — I was primed to enjoy The Coil Project’s Forgotten Monsters of Filmland premiere. The show’s campy nostalgia evokes the memory of watching low-budget, black-and-white scary movies with primitive special effects that nevertheless manage to be creepy and memorable. There are offstage screams occasionally. (I could have used a few more.)
Even though the production was hampered by set changes that were too long, I did enjoy this show and its premise: What if those now-classic horror movies were not just fiction? What if, instead, they were a cover for the real vampires and mad scientists who were working in Hollywood to get their stories told as accurately as they could be given the restraints of the commercial movie-making industry? The play by Rebecca Fischler, directed by Erik Harrison, takes the characters in Dracula and Frankenstein and the personal lives of such gothic horror authors as Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and H.P. Lovecraft and mashes them together into a fun show.
Forgotten Monsters of Filmland takes place in 1930, thirty-five years after Lucy Westenra (one of Dracula’s first victims when he arrives in England) and Roderick Renfield (Dracula’s devoted helper) have their initial encounters with Dracula. The two are now “rising talents in the nascent film industry.”
When a series of murders happen in Los Angeles that seem connected to their past, Lucy and Renfield look up their old friend Elizabeth Frankenstein, who is now a researcher at Miskatonic University. What propels the play is the investigation of these murders and what it all means for them and their relationship to powerhouse Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle Jr. (They all refer to him as just “Junior”).
Everyone in the cast does a creditable job with their roles. No one gets in the way of the script’s zaniness. However, this script leans in the direction of such over-the-top satires as Charles Ludlum’s Mystery of Irma Vep, and Andrew Quilpa is unique in this cast for making the bold acting choices necessary to make the script work well. He gives us a portrait of a controlling Hollywood mogul that rivals Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard fame with her bigger-than-life qualities and the guy in the Crazy Eddie electronics commercials for his tackiness and sleaziness.
There is something about this script that is loving and respectful of these characters of horror movies and literature as they have come to live in our memories of them. Playwright Fischler creates/explores relationships between Renfield and Lucy that I never imagined could have existed, both due to class differences between the two and the difficulty I have of giving up the image of Renfield eating flies. Then Fischler turns the hopelessly devoted Elizabeth Frankenstein into a respected scientist herself to rival, if not displace the first Dr. Frankenstein. The playwright provocatively extends the “what if” possibilities of these characters.
I look forward to seeing her next play.
Running Time: Approximately one hour 45 minutes with no intermission.
Forgotten Monsters of Filmland plays Thursday to Saturday until August 27, 2022, presented by The Coil Project performing at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW), 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($15, plus fees) are available online.
COVID Safety: CHAW follows CDC-recommended guidelines including mandatory mask use (N95 or KN95) for all people entering the building.
Forgotten Monsters of Filmland by Rebecca Fischler
Lucy Westernra: Jessica Ludd
Elizabeth Levanza: Brigid Wallace
Roderick Renfield: Dylan Mahoney
Lavinia Whately: Lori Brooks
Herbert West/Victor Frankenstein: Matthew Marcus
Carl Laemmle Jr.: Andrew Quilpa
Director: Erik Harrison
Producer: Andy De
Stage Manager/Lighting Designer: Paige Willis
Sound Designer: Rich Frangiamore
Set Designer: Erik Harrison
Costumes & Props Designer: Rebecca Fischler
Fight Choreographer: Patrick Mullen