(Courtesy of Thin Duke Productions/SparkPlug Productions)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, comic book artist/playwright Dean Haspiel discusses The Last Bar at the End of the World, his existential tragicomedy from Thin Duke Productions/SparkPlug Productions. Through his latest work, Haspiel attempts to answer the universal question most of us ask daily, “Why are we here?”
As we previously mentioned, The Last Bar at the End of the World follows a dying graphic novelist, his best friend, and the sages, teachers, lovers, and losers. There are the people that fill up this novelist’s cityscape. This is a play that asks the universal questions, “Why are we here and what do we have to do to move on?”
Before The Last Bar at the End of the World opens for audiences on April 10th 2018 at Urban Stages, Dean Haspiel discusses the inspiration behind his newest play, creating the characters, and how his ensemble cast brings them to life.
Villain Media: I love the title because it reminds me of Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe! What was the inspiration behind your play, The Last Bar at the End of the World?
Dean Haspiel: Thanks, Jorge! When my second play, Harakiri Kane was enjoying its ten-sold out performances at The Brick in Brooklyn, NY — produced by Gemini CollisionWorks — I was busy writing my third play. I wanted to ride the momentum and the synergy of the actors, directors and the audiences kept me going full throttle. The Last Bar at the End of the World is a Frankenstein of several sources: equal parts an abandoned screenplay, essays I wrote when I was on retreat at Yaddo, and brand new material reacting to a post-truth world as seen through the eyes of two best friends who come to a proverbial fork-in-the-road to face their demons. One guy is an attorney and the other is a cartoonist. And they both encounter marvelous women who trigger change.
VM: How does writing The Last Bar at the End of the World compare to writing a serialized piece like The Red Hook?
DH: Writing comix relies on artists to fully realize the story, whereas writing plays relies on actors to perform the tale. And, the pacing is different. A parlay can go longer in theater and earn space for monologues. Too much text in a comic doesn’t look right and feels clogged. Cast the right actor and they can read you the phone book and keep you on the edge of your seat. But, you sure wouldn’t wanna read a graphic novel of the phone book. Although, now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll bet cartoonist, R. Sikoryak could make it sing.
VM: You met Philip Cruise as a student at SUNY purchase in the late eighties. What do you feel Cruise brings out onto the stage as an actor/director?
DH: Phil Cruise is fierce and intense. Once he embodies a project, he knows exactly what he wants but is open to intelligent influence. There’s nothing wishy-washy about Phil. He reminds me of me only it’s an early morning version of me. He’s the farmer to my grave digger. The fact that he’s a great actor AND produces and directs is a great asset. I’ve been lucky to have my plays produced and directed by actors like Phil Cruise and Ian W. Hill. I learn a lot from their insight and innovations.
VM: The ensemble includes Tarik Davis, Lex Friedman, Seth Gilliam, Christopher Lee, Edward Miller, Anna Stefanic, Alyssa Simmons, and Stoya. What do you want the cast to bring out from the characters you’ve created?
DH: I tend to write a mouthful — Thanks, Anna Stefanic! — and I bite the inside of my cheek every time I watch a performance of my play because I know I’ve created a real challenge with the words. But the actors figure out a way to make me sound good and they elevate the story. As a cartoonist, I’ve gotten pretty good at pacing stories and creating melodrama. Something the actors have to do with their voices an bodies and behavior. It’s a wonder to watch and absorb. A thrill. The major difference is that you can roll up a comic book into your back pocket or bookmark a webcomic and read it again later. Guerilla-style, black box theater is nearly impossible to record, so the performance evaporates into an experience you can only carry in your heart and mind. Theater is bittersweet!
VM: I love Seth Gilliam’s performances as Ellis Carver in The Wire and as Father Gabriel in The Walking Dead. Tell me writing something personal as becoming a dad and watching Gilliam dive into the role as a young family man.
DH: If there’s anything that officially makes me a jerk, it’s the fact that I haven’t watched The Wire yet. I know…I KNOW!! Stop berating me world! So, the thing I know mostly about Seth’s work is that they like to make him cry…A LOT…on The Walking Dead. So much so, I actually complained to Robert Kirkman about it. And, they finally let Seth have a machete and a gun, so he can man up a little. But, in all seriousness, Seth took to Tobias, the character he portrays in The Last Bar…, like a fish to water. His ability to flex a wide range of emotions is astounding. Even when Seth is quiet, he holds you hostage. Now, I gotta go watch The Wire!
VM: I loved Stoya’s performance as the Angel of Death in your previous work, Harakiri Kane. And now she’s playing an everyday New Yorker on the train. When writing for Stoya, is it about playing to her strengths or seeing more of her versatility as an actress?
DH: Thanks, I thought Stoya did a great job playing Sharon in Harakiri Kane! Especially her final monologue! It was a beautiful! Made me cry a few times! When I think about writing for Stoya, I try to imagine her in situations she hasn’t performed. I try to cast her opposite of what others might do. Because she’s an international pornstar, I enjoyed the irony that she had to play an abstinent agent of death in my last play. I like to challenge Stoya and substantiate her versatility as an actress. I wrote Stella, specifically for Stoya to portray in The Last Bar at the End of the World. Stella is a tricky character to play and I can’t wait to see Stoya put her into action!
VM: How has The Last Bar at the End of the World changed you as an artist?
DH: Writing plays confirms my life-long desire to create performance-based art. As much as I cherish flexing full autonomy, producing soup-to-nuts comix, I like collaborating with actors and directors. I would like to write and direct television and movies too.
VM: What are you working on now?
DH: I’m currently working on the last couple of chapters of my webcomic War Cry, published by LINE Webtoons. It’s a direct sequel to my Ringo Award winning webcomic, The Red Hook, and I’m developing a third season for a proposed trilogy. The first volume of The Red Hook is coming out in print from Image Comics in June.
Readers can find out more about THE RED HOOK here:
Readers can find out more about WAR CRY here:
The Last Bar at the End of the World will premiere at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street in New York. Performance begin on Tuesday April 10th. 2018 and will run through Sunday April 15th, 2018. Readers can click here to purchase LAST BAR tickets: https://lastbar.brownpapertickets.com/
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