Anne Washburn is one of my favorite young American playwrights. In plays such as The Internationalist, The Ladies, and Apparition, she has revealed wonderfully theatrical imagination, far removed from the realism and family dramas that currently dominate American and British playwriting.
Anne’s plays are purely theatrical; it’s hard to imagine them adapted as scripts for film or television. She delights in stage illusion, in ghosts, fantasies, and figments of our imagination. Her style reminds me somewhat of early Caryl Churchill, and she has something of Tony Kushner’s epic and historical sweep, but ultimately her voice is unique.
I’ve admired Anne’s writing for many years, and I was truly thrilled when she offered us the premiere of The Communist Dracula Pageant, her most ambitious play yet. Its full title is irresistible and gives you some sense of the play’s zany tone: The Communist Dracula Pageant, by Americans, for Americans, with hallucinations, phosphorescence, and bears.
The play is ostensibly about Romania during the last, dark days of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescus’ dictatorship, though it spans three time periods. Part of the text is taken from the transcript of the Ceasescus’ trial, an absurd and surreal kangaroo court that resulted in their execution, though the play also takes ten years earlier, when the terrible duo where at the height of their powers, and mounting theatrical pageants across the country to celebrate their greatness. Woven between these two strands is the story of Vlad Tepes, the fifteenth century Romanian tyrant who became mythologized in the nineteenth century as Prince Dracula.
I say the play is ostensibly about Romania because, like so many great writers before her, Anne is using a foreign time and place as a lens through which we can consider our own time. The play is “by Americans, for Americans” and should resonate particularly well in October, in the weeks before our election. But if you’ve reached political saturation, don’t worry – The Communist Dracula Pageant is only obliquely a commentary on current affairs, and stands on its own as a major new historical drama. Although its subject matter is dark and bloodthirsty, the play’s tone is ironic, even manic, fully of wonderfully theatrical surprises.
The Communist Dracula Pageant will be directed by Anne Kauffman, a long-time collaborator of Anne Washburn’s, and a preeminent director of new American plays. You’ll can read an excellent profile of her in American Theatre. I’ve been hoping to bring both Annes to the A.R.T. for some time, and their collaboration on this wild and wonderful play is cause for celebration.