Down in the muck and up on the balcony
There is no better month than October to stage a "sultry modern ghost story," which is how Cyndi Williams describes her latest work, Dug Up. Set in an isolated inn, the play deals with bones, an impending storm, a dead twin sister, and Tennessee Williams. With the world premiere production opening Austin Playhouse's Larry L. King Theatre season, the Chronicle spoke with the celebrated local playwright to dig up some titillating tidbits about the script.
Austin Chronicle: What is the seed that planted itself in your head and led to the creation of Dug Up?
Cyndi Williams: A confluence of seeds came together: a sociopath girlfriend I had as a teenager, a crazy bed-and-breakfast host who told me he dug up his dead pets and reburied them when he moved from place to place, and my friends, the actors Jude Hickey and Jessie Tilton, asking me if I would write a play for them.
AC: The play is set in Louisiana's Bayou Country. Is that land familiar to you?
CW: On my single trip to New Orleans, we drove and ended up on that crazy highway over the swamp at twilight. I'm from East Texas and thought I knew swamps, but it dwarfed all the marshes of my memories. As it got darker and darker, the lights began twinkling, and I realized, people live down there! When we got to New Orleans, I saw all the balconies and was struck by the idea of the life in muck versus the life up on a balcony. I wanted to write a play like that ever since.
AC: How does Tennessee Williams get worked into the mix?
CW: Again, the whole idea of balconies and the earth has been rummaging about in my imagination for a while. It just says Tennessee Williams to me! I wanted this play to have a vague sense of time period, a vaguely Fifties quality. And I wanted to embrace the sort of language I grew up hearing in East Texas.
AC: How scared will we be? Is Dug Up super spooky?
CW: I think it has a more macabre, slightly humorous kind of spookiness. A sense of funny/sad/creepy that really appeals to me.
AC: You use real animal bones on stage. Were animals harmed in the making of this play?
CW: They came to us as bones. The entire production is manned by sentimental, animal-loving human beings who would probably drive off a cliff rather than hit a 'dillo in the road. You really haven't lived till you've watched our intrepid director, Lara Toner, getting the winning bid on eBay for a box of bones!
AC: The scariest ghost stories are the ones that are true. Is yours true?
CW: A lot of this play is based on things that really happened. The stories and lies that the character Dewitt tells are also mostly based on true stories. ... What is true? What is made up? I'm not telling!
Dug Up runs Oct. 10-Nov. 2, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5:30pm, at the Larry L. King Theatre at Austin Playhouse, 3601 S. Congress, Bldg. C. For more information, call 476-0084 or visit www.austinplayhouse.com.