The Richest Deadman Alive
The Richest Deadman Alive! premiered 32 years ago as a satirical celebration of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics. In a society where you can supposedly become anything you like, we wanted to explore what an ordinary couple might do for the opportunity of wealth. We’d read about an Italian painter who saw his own obituary in the morning newspaper and was on his way to city hall when his wife stopped him. “Wait! Your paintings are finally going to be worth something. Why don’t we leave well enough alone?” We imagined the details: The funeral, hiding from then on, getting caught.
We imagined a similar scenario in the hands of a very ordinary couple. Neither is an artist so there is no reason to 'stay dead'….unless there is a life insurance policy. And once they burned through the payout, what’s next? Little did we know but 20 years later, two elderly women in Los Angeles perpetrated the same grisly scheme on homeless people that we entertained while creating this theatrical farce. You can read about it in a July 16, 2008 Los Angeles Times article. We swear there was no connection. Deadman wasn’t performed within 400 miles of Los Angeles.
Commedia dell’arte was a point of departure. Tributes were paid to the Marx Brothers and Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’.Where farce uses many doors for quick entrances and exits, Deadman was built to tour so one wheeled door sufficed. We were inspired by Charles Ludlum of The Ridiculous Theatre who could turn farce on a dime – from balls-out fun and mockery to the depths of tragedy – as he played a sad moment truthfully and all of the way. We added imagery – a company trademark. In other Grottesco plays, movement often falls in the realm of dance theatre. In Deadman, the dance is flying actors and hurtling props.
“This was my first experience of revising and re-writing with Grottesco. It was inspiring to sit with John and Elizabeth, dig in to the script and examine what to do (if anything) to improve it. I was challenged and flattered to be included in this process.
We had fun devising the William death event. Our cast was game to make the illogic of the event logical, and to make it very fun for the audience with all its silliness and surprises. They were all involved in the multiple tasks to make the magic of the theater happen, and the candle always burned the string, thank goodness. I loved watching it every night, as William was accidentally electrocuted. Luckily, his grieving widow, Marjorie, made the best of the situation, and we were left sweating and buried under a deluge of corpses at the end.”
Kent Kirkpatrick (Note: Kent just showed up one day at rehearsal with the whole Rube Goldberg electrocution scene in place – pulleys and strings everywhere —it worked!)
“It was an absolute joy to be part of this show. The ensemble we had at that time was so tight and each actor just seemed to fit their character or characters perfectly. Having studied dance and pantomime in my younger years, working with Grottesco was a dream come true. I recall how much fun we had cracking each other up in rehearsals. The 4 arm lazzi was my favorite. It starts with a surreal feeling to it, with the meditative narrative and the slow motion. The lazzi itself was a challenge with timing and trust. We were not able to see each other and just trusted the other would have their arms where they were supposed to be. I remember flubbing a line one night and our arms just kept going like the snakes on a Medusa head. The scene with Dan and the Boss was wonderfully conceived by Grottesco years before. Everything I love about live theater was in that scene: the physicality, the risk, humor, and surprising the audience, which could be as simple as breaking the fourth wall, as Dan did.” Todd Anderson
"I spent my birthday that year lying in a casket surrounded by the ensemble as we took publicity photos for the production. A fitting celebration for an actor playing a man who dies and comes back to life. And then dies again.
Like many re-mounts of Grottesco shows that I was a part of, much of the rehearsal process involved crowding around a tv, watching old VHS tapes of the previous production, and trying to figure out how the hell they did that. A large song and dance number, a fatal Rube Goldberg device, intricate choreography involving dead bodies and trees being thrown on stage; everything was so precise and rigorous and challenging and so much fun. This comedy was very serious business."