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BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir

Theatre 40 world premieres John Strysik’s DEATH, WITH BENEFITS January 27, 2022

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir

Theatre 40 world premieres John Strysik's DEATH, WITH BENEFITS January 27, 2022. Jeff G. Rack directs this dark comedy cast of Susan Damante, Cheryl David, Kevin Dulude, Larry Eisenberg and Philip Sokoloff. I had the opportunity to interrogate John on the reasons behind his DEATH.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, John!

No problem. Thank you, Gil.

What was the igniting spark that started your creation of DEATH, WITH BENEFITS?

Really, it was story itself. When me and the rest of the world heard about the so-called "Killer Grannies of Santa Monica" and the insane absurdity of two seventy-something grandmotherly ladies abducting and killing men for vast amounts of insurance monies, well, your first reaction is to laugh at the craziness of it all. And of course, there are a lot of echoes of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE which was also "inspired" by the true story of an early 20th century serial killer named Amy Archer-Gilligan and her Home for Aged People and Chronic Invalids where she is thought to have dispatched up to sixty of her clientele while collecting their pension money.

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir What would your three-line pitch for DEATH, WITH BENEFITS be?

Two mature ladies bond over the awful emotional and financial situations their deceased husbands have left them. To fix their predicaments, they concoct a pernicious get-rich plan: take in sickly men, get them to sign lavish life insurance policies with the women as beneficiaries, and care for them until they pass away. The only problem is that their guests are not passing away quickly enough, so the ladies decide to speed up the process.

What lucky stars brought you together with Theatre 40?

It was all through the director of DWB, Jeff G. Rack.

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir You've worked with your director Jeff before in VILLAINY ~or~ Holmes' Own Story at the Whitefire Theatre in 2018. What qualities of Jeff made you anxious to work together again? Do you both have a dark sense of humor?

I was a staff director on the 1980s horror anthology television series called Tales From The Darkside. I met Jeff through the producer of that show, and meeting someone via Darkside definitely qualifies you for a dark sense of humor.

Any Whitefire Theatre audience reactions to VILLAINY take you by surprise?

Just how the audience kept growing during the run. Due to limited theater availability, we only had six shows, but it seemed that the word was spreading and people were showing up, sometimes in bizarre costumes. Since it played during Halloween, it was a great thing indeed.

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir Besides Jeff, have you worked with DEATH, WITH BENEFITS' cast or other creatives before?

Phil Sokoloff did publicity duties for VILLAINY and now he gets to be freaked out by Gray Aliens in DWB, as well as publicizing it. Also wig, hair and makeup designer Judi Lewin and lighting designer Derrick McDaniel did the same for the play about Doctor Holmes.

Did you participate in the casting or any of the pre-production of DEATH, WITH BENEFITS?

Yes, but the ultimate decisions were left to producer David Stafford and director Jeff Rack, and I gotta say they made some fantastic ones. All the cast members - Cheryl David, Susan Damante, Larry Eisenberg, Kevin Dulude and Phil Sokoloff - are like forces of nature when it comes to funny.

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir You wear a number of hats: director, writer, editor. If you had to choose only one, which hat would you wear for the rest of your career?

Quite literally stumbling into a production of Samuel Beckett's ENDGAME way back in my Junior College days in Joliet, IL absolutely floored me and made me want to be a writer. So, any kind of writing is a hat I would wear, and as long the brain works you can keep working as well.

When someone else is directing your script, can you keep your director's cap off?

Absolutely. I come from film and television directing, and play directing is a different animal entirely. I'm very lucky to have Jeff as the director; he's always finding things in the script that are revelations to me. He also has an exquisite sense of staging. When we did VILLAINY some of it was like a ballet and with the help of fight choreographer Marc Pritchett, he's doing the same with DWB. There's a lot of movement in it and all of it funny.

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir You've worked in TV, film and stage. What advantages for you do you like in each medium?

In each one the advantage is being able to collaborate with others in finding the story. I've always hated the film credit "A Film By..." Absolute nonsense! If the grips aren't hauling a couple hundred pounds of equipment up four flights of stairs, there ain't gonna be a film "by" anyone.

If financial compensation were not a factor, which medium would you prefer to contribute your talents in?

Well, I do have a few of what I consider to be good film scripts laying around...

One critic described a lot of your scripts as "creepy noir and the crossover genre of erotic horror." What true crime subject would you like to tackle as your next script?

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir Not so much a crime noir, but it is a true story and there is creepiness in it. Jeff and I are working on a play called THE PERFECTION OF JOHN DEE. Dee was the court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I and maybe the model for Prospero in THE TEMPEST. He was a genius mathematician, as well as an occultist and alchemist and communicated with a number of what he called "spiritual creatures" trying to understand the mysteries of creation and by that understanding, perfect the world. He took copious notes of his workings with these creatures, and they read like a lost play by Shakespeare. Anyway, the play is based on them and it's really a trip. Another play I hope to do is called POWER AND LIGHT about the tangled relationship of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and how these two amazing, but flawed geniuses created our modern electrical world. BTW a certain producer at Theatre 40 would make an absolutely incredible Thomas Edison, but I digress...

BWW Interview: Playwright John Strysik's Pendant For DEATH, VILLAINY & True Noir What's in the near future for John Strysik?

Before the virus hit, I had three new productions of VILLAINY scheduled. It looks like two of them may be happening in '22 around Halloween, and Doctor Holmes and his skeletons make great entertainment for that dark time of year.

Thank you again, John! I look forward to experiencing your DEATH.

Thank you, Gil. But just remember, "DEATH is easy; COMEDY is hard."

For tickets for the live performances of DEATH, WITH BENEFITS through February 20, 2022; log onto www.theatre40.org



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From This Author - Gil Kaan