Bob Bartlett is the author of many plays, including E2, a modern adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s drama Edward II; Union, about the poet Walt Whitman’s time in DC; and The Accident Bear, set in and staged in a laundromat. A founding member of the DC-based playwright’s collective The Welders, Bartlett spoke with DC Theater Arts about his new play, Lýkos Ánthrōpos, to be performed in a clearing in the woods.
What was the inspiration behind Lýkos Ánthrōpos?
Like so many of my age, I grew up watching monster movies and Creature Features on Saturdays. They’re probably my first love — monster movies — even before live theater. I was probably nine or so when my aunt let me stay up late on a weekend to watch George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead on television. I made it through the first few minutes and didn’t sleep for a week. And I guess I’ve been pursuing that feeling — that memory, that fear — all my life.
There is something primal about horror, something audiences can’t escape. As a writer, as a dramatist, we can only dream of an audience responding that way to our work and to the stories we tell. Writing horror for the stage, however, is difficult. I’m not sure I see myself writing horror for the traditional stage, unless the story somehow involves a haunted theater. Lýkos Ánthrōpos is my first genre play, and my first attempt at horror, although I’ve written quite often about ghosts, most successfully in my full-length play happiness (and other reasons to die), which was produced almost a decade ago by The Welders here in Washington, DC. I’ve been producing my own work in site-specific locations for several years, so I knew that this play — which began when I found myself alone for a few days in the mountains in an isolated cabin — would be site-specific.
While writing it, was there anything that surprised you?
A great deal surprised me. I’m not sure I knew the story when I started writing. Throughout the summer and into the fall, I described the writing of the play as me “throwing paint against a wall.” It started with a haunting monologue about a man waking the morning after his first kill, his first transformation, his first full moon. I wanted to know what he was feeling and experiencing as he woke on the forest floor. I loved the monologue — it’s still in the play — and decided to keep exploring whatever the story wanted to be.
I had the chance to spend a month alone in Rhodes, Greece, over the summer, where I wrote the bulk of the play — and although I’ve seen almost every werewolf movie ever made many times, and read fiction and nonfiction on the subject, I wasn’t aware until my summer in Greece that lycanthropy dated so specifically to the ancients and Ovid’s Metamorphosis — and a myth about lycanthropy that Hollywood hadn’t bastardized, which became the foundation of my protagonist’s journey. In the last few weeks, the play has undergone radical transformation in rehearsal, led by our marvelous director Alex Levy, the artistic director of 1st Stage in Tysons, and our cast, Patrick Kilpatrick and Nicholas Gerwitz.
The play is performed on a farm in Davidsonville. Were there any challenges in staging it in such an unusual space?
I knew late in the summer that I wanted to try to produce the play this fall, during Halloween, but I didn’t have a location. I’ve long fantasized about asking audiences to park on the side of a road and walk into the woods to observe a play that may or may not be in progress. I lived in downtown Annapolis for a number of years, and recently bought a home in Davidsonville, Maryland, so I asked my real estate agent if she knew anyone in the area who had a large piece of wooded property who might be willing to host the production, and so I found a space in Davidsonville on private property willing to host us. The location, our clearing in the woods, is perfect for the play. I often write outdoors, near the water or in the woods. It was remarkable, when we first started rehearsing in the woods, how the play wanted to be there.
You’ve staged plays in nontraditional places before, like The Accident Bear in a working laundromat. What is it that attracts you to these kinds of places?
I think it’s also what attracts me to horror as a genre. Site-specific theater connects with audiences, with spectators, in ways the art cannot in traditional performance spaces. In the next year or so, I’ll have three productions in site-specific spaces, one in KA-CHUNK!! Records in downtown Annapolis — on Maryland Avenue near the laundromat that hosted my sold-out run of The Accident Bear — and another in a coffee shop and another on the shores of the South River only accessible by kayak. I love event theater. Whenever a friend or company is doing work in unusual spaces, I’m there.
What’s your favorite horror movie?
Oh, wow. That’s just about impossible to answer. Night of the Living Dead and the Universal monster movies had the earliest impact on me. I adore Creature From the Black Lagoon, and anything involving the devil and witchcraft, like Rosemary’s Baby. Recently, Hereditary, It Follows, The Conjuring series, and the films of Jordan Peele have blown me away. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In and the films to follow inspire me. I’ll see just about any horror film, although I’m not a fan of splatter horror, which is sometimes referred to as the slasher or torture genre. Home invasion movies terrify me, and I can’t watch them alone. My favorite werewolf movies are, of course, The Wolf Man (1941) and An American Werewolf in London.
What do you hope audiences will come away with after seeing Lýkos Ánthrōpos?
I imagine they’ll walk away having experienced an event that they hadn’t expected. The play, I believe, has more of an emotional heft than I imagined it would. This isn’t the kind of experience where spooky things will be jumping out of the woods at the audience. But they will be asked to take a deeper dive into an element of horror and monsters than they may not have had the chance to experience in the past, especially if they’ve seen almost any werewolf movie Hollywood has produced. And we’ll ask them to park in a meadow — and to bring a fold-up chair and a lantern or flashlight and to wear sensible boots or shoes — and walk a short distance into the woods to see this 75-minute exploration of the werewolf. This isn’t a play for children.
Lýkos Ánthrōpos runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8 pm from October 21 to November 6, 2002, at 8 PM in a clearing in the woods at 215 Emilys Way, Davidsonville, MD. Purchase tickets ($25) online.
Seating is limited to 20 per performance. Attendees should dress warmly, bring a fold-up chair and a lantern or flashlight, and wear hiking or hike-friendly shoes. Attendees will park in a meadow and walk a short distance into the woods for the 75-minute performance.
By Bob Bartlet
Directed by Alex Levy
Featuring Patrick Kilpatrick and Nicholas Gerwitz