There will be a workshop and private first reading of Dustin Engstrom’s stage adaptation of my book, entitled The Cut, in a few weeks. The reading will feature Seattle actors Dylan Sladky (playing me!), Monica Wulzen, Ron Sandahl, David Rollison, Angel Welter, Buddy Mahoney, Matt Riggins and Desire Bearup. A formal cast will be announced after auditions in November. I am very excited to see how my story will translate for the stage. This workshop will be an important tool for Dustin to see what works and what doesn’t as he continues working on the script for the fully mounted production this winter.
Dustin is the Associate Artistic Director at Open Circle Theatre in Seattle where he has had two plays produced. I was delighted that he got The Cut into the season there. There is already a lot of buzz (excuse the pun) about the play. I am not even sure the first draft of the script was completely written when it was put on the calendar at the beginning of the summer. It will open January 14, 2011.
Dustin and I have worked at Intiman Theatre together for several years, but really didn’t know each other. We were ships passing in the harbor. He worked in the administrative office during business hours and I worked crew hours, mostly at night. I asked Dustin to give me his impressions of adapting the book to a play. Here is what he had to say:
Dennis approached me via email over a year ago:
“I am looking for a playwright to adapt a book I wrote into a play. Craig Lucas spoke highly of you and I was wondering if this sort of project would interest you. The book is actually a memoir (I have had a wacko life)…”
I had never been commissioned to write a non-fiction piece (or really, in this case: a fictionalized version of a non-fiction piece) and my only adaptations had been that of H.P. Lovecraft and Franz Kafka (weird stuff). Not really knowing what Dennis’ book was going to be about, I said sure, I would give it a read. What I found was shocking and kind of a little bit insane…but an extremely haunting and riveting human story about a man and his permanent struggle — not only with his hair fetish, but with his family, his relationships — his overall sense of wanting to be loved and accepted in a world that seemed to cut him down at every turn.
There is such a prevailing sense of that humanity in the memoir that it gave me the impetus to say yes to him on adapting it. My interest as a writer is to write about human suffering and as long as there is a sense of adventure, humor and pathos — I’m hooked. Many people might read Dennis’ book and not find anything fun, humorous or adventuresome about it and only see the pathos — but they are not looking deep enough. Dennis’ world becomes a dangerous one as he decides to walk down the dark path of male prostitution to cultivate men to cut hair — but in that world there is a sense of otherworldly — a picture painted with humor, pain and searching– ever searching.
Taking the book and transforming it into a play, I didn’t want a one man show and because the memoir jumps time so often there wasn’t a way in my mind to form it into a linear storyline. I found that his creation of Stefeny, the doll and her world that he made for her very theatrical. So she became a main character. And from there it seem to pour out of me. Stefeny Calvert has been one of most enjoyable characters I’ve ever written. I can not wait to see her take the stage by an actor. I titled the play THE CUT as it seemed to have many different connotations in correlation to Dennis’ story (and my partner was the one that coined it for me at first as Dennis’ original title was CAN I CUT YOUR HAIR?). I have tried to capture the essence of his struggle and play on that theme as he comes to terms with himself and his life and to give a hint of where he is at now…
Dennis is a brave, brave soul to tell this story…to have it published for the world to read…and made it into a play for Seattle audiences to be introduced to…it is quite a journey for him; one that I hope now he can look back on with humor, adventure and appreciation for how it has made him who and what he is today.
I am wearing a lot of hats right now. My thanks to all you encouraged me along the way.