ACTOR/WRITER ERIC WOOLFE REVITALIZES THE ROMANCE HORROR GENRE
eric woolfe is bringing fun back to the indie
theatre scene. He's cornering the market on strange, creepy tales with lots of
laughs and smarts.Last year, his SummerWorks play Sideshow Of The Damned stirred
up sex and horror in a scary-funny homage to exploitative old fright films.
Audiences ate it up. Look for an expanded remount around Halloween.
This week he unleashes the much more ambitious Grendelmaus. It's the tale of
a demonic little rodent who takes over the apartment of a nebbishy file clerk
(Woolfe), jeopardizing the man's chances with his love interest (bittergirl's
Mary Francis Moore).
Sure, Woolfe has a twisted imagination. Funny thing is, much of the play is
"A few years ago I was living in a bachelor apartment, and one night I
heard the dishes shake," begins Woolfe, whose off-the-cuff stories are as
good as many writers' finished works.
"I thought the dishes must just be settling. The next day I noticed a
chair slightly out of place, books thumbed through and these little things I
tried to convince myself were poppy seeds."
It wasn't long before a greyish mouse scuttled over to the middle of the
floor and stared down the playwright, who jumped up, left the room and bought
every trap he could find.
No luck. Traps loaded with peanut butter and bacon were miraculously robbed
of their bait. Glue traps were ignored. And soon Woolfe's beady-eyed nemesis
began casually appearing during the day, unafraid even when the broom came out.
"Eventually, I started to respect it," says Woolfe, who wrote the
first draft of the play during his job a paper-pushing file clerk. "I just
moved. I gave him the apartment. As far as I know, he's still there."
The title is a reference to Beowulf's über monster, Grendel, and the play
borrows from that epic's structure and language. But there's also plenty of
Kafka and Gogol in the nightmarish office scenes, and all the character names
come from Moby Dick, one of Woolfe's favourite novels and, of course, another
Yet for all the script's literary sophistication, its unusual mix of romance,
comedy and horror -- think Play It Again, Sam meets David Cronenberg -- should
be the draw.
It's no surprise that Woolfe is a huge horror fan. A former child actor who
started out in plays at London's Grand Theatre, he remembers staying up late to
watch Lon Chaney Jr. and Dario Argento films with his dad.
"The popular conception of horror changed after the film
Halloween," he explains. "All these wonderful archetypes that go back
to the 1800s and E.T.A. Hoffman are forgotten, and now all you have are stories
where large-breasted women are killed. That's too bad. It's like comedy only
being Adam Sandler stories."
Woolfe just finished a year as the meerkat in the musical The Lion King, an
experience that influenced the look and sound of Grendelmaus.
Just as the Lion King used untranslated Zulu, Woolfe uses some Old English
words and phrases in the play, confident that the rich sounds will evoke
feelings and moods even if people don't understand the literal meaning.
But more importantly, he got to use the musical's puppet workshop to borrow
ideas and techniques for constructing his own play's two dozen or so puppets,
which range from a tiny mouse on a stick to a 12-foot giant.
While Woolfe appreciates the irony of spending a year playing a creature who
preys on little mice, he also laughingly points out the differences between
working on a mega-musical and a tiny little indie play.
"For The Lion King they had these stacks of T-shirts during rehearsals
so we wouldn't get sweaty and cold," he says. "With this show, I'm
going to the bank down the street to steal a bunch of forms for an office