With zombie and undead culture bigger than ever, it's not surprising that this infectious genre is making its mark on Calgary's theatre circuit. At the 2008 Calgary Fringe Festival, the theme is manifesting as Use Me: An Undead Musical, a play that combines the beloved genre with a deeply unsettling premise and an unexpected dose of musical comedy.
According to director Ellen Close, the musical hopes to be a masterful fusion of disparate elements that provoke an altruistic awareness of the selfish nature of human relationships. The play alludes to various other works and happenings, the most notable being, the bizarre but true story of the post-mortem desecration of journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who is most recognized for his 22-year stint on Masterpiece Theatre and whose own death was followed by an incident of bone and organ thievery. The project is the first effort of the newly created Mittens Productions. Founded by playwright, University of Calgary alumni and Concordia University student Jeff Kubik, the venture has allowed the cast and crew to experiment with new roles. Along with several other first timers-Kubik's first attempt at writing a musical and Close's first experience directing a musical-accompanist Rosabel Choi was given the opportunity to take the leap from the orchestra pit and co-compose Use Me's dark cabaret musical styling. Quite appropriately, the fledgling group will benefit from the production's debut at the artist focused and ever-popular Fringe Fest.
Use Me begins with an air of mystery, as Alistair (Alex Plouffe), formerly a talentless poet, awakes to find his own humanity violated and his bones replaced with pipe. The mysterious nature of Alistair's condition unravels as he discovers love at first sight in the similarly afflicted ex-ballerina Annie (Allison Lynch). Armed with the confidence of this relationship, Alistair embarks on a journey of discovery, hoping to find his bones and with them, Lazarus Tep (Brent Posesky), the dastardly mortician whose seedy side business has led to the accidental re-awakening of Alistair and Annie.
Close describes the production as a dark portrait of love where unexpected twists bring the major players of this musical comedy together and opens the door to a triangle of somewhat exploitative relationships. The title reflects the nature of these unions.
"Very few times do we see pure, unadulterated love," Close says. "This is reflected literally through their relationships, but also symbolically with the characters having their best parts-their bones-taken out of them." As the plot thickens, the reason for Alistair's rebirth becomes clearer. The twosome realize they have more in common than they think.
"They've both been violated in some way," Close explains. "They're incomplete, so they can't fully die."