Stories by Starlight Sets Halloween Mood with Cowler’s Adaptation

(David Dierks, Photographer)
Marsha Howard (standing) with (L-R) Ariella Folks, Ken Sollazzo and John Chapin starred in The Monkey’s Paw, part of Malcolm Cowler’s Triple Tryst of Terror production in August.

    The Orinda Starlight Village Players (OrSVP) complete their 2021 season with Malcolm Cowler’s adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla as the final production in the “Stories by Starlight” series, Oct. 1-3.
   “It’s a favorite of mine,” said Cowler. “It’s a great story that predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years.”
   Cowler is known for producing gothic horror at OrSVP. “As a young guy in England, my favorite movies were the Hammer Horror series, with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing,” said Cowler. “When I was at University in London, a group of us would ride the underground many an evening, visiting London suburbs that were showing double features of Hammer films. I guess I’m still hooked.” Cowler’s first introduction to Carmilla was the Hammer Horror adaptation, The Vampire Lovers.
   “When I adapt a book, I import the novel into my scripting software and then start to cut, paste and modify the text to create a stage play,” said Cowler. “Using this technique guarantees that 90% of the script is the actual words of the author.”
   Carmilla will be done as minimalist performance for OrSVP. No sets will be used, and scripts are openly used by the cast although actors will be fully costumed and moving around on the stage.
   “It will be a combination of staged readings and simple blocking and props, using music and sound effects to create the required spooky/mysterious/dramatic environment,” said Cowler.
   Those who saw Cowler’s previous “Stories by Starlight” production, Triple Tryst of Terror in August, will be familiar with how Cowler stages plays to make the production come alive.
   “Carmilla was a bit different to adapt because it is to be performed as a staged reading without a set,” said Cowler. “Le Fanu’s story was actually recounted throughout by the protagonist. I retained her as the narrator in my adaptation, which allows her to recount some of the more complex (and gruesome) scenes that would be difficult to stage in a reading.”
   As the show opens, Laura and her father live a quiet life in their isolated castle in Styria (southern Austria). Into this lonely existence comes the mysterious house guest, Carmilla. Slowly, Laura comes under Carmilla’s spell while an outbreak of wasting deaths afflict peasants in the countryside. Soon Laura falls ill. Will they manage to work out the cause of her illness, or will Laura be the latest victim of the vampire Carmilla?
   In the past, OrSVP provided blankets and jackets to attendees who forgot to bring their own. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, OrSVP will not be doing so this year. Due to COVID surges, OrSVP is also requiring all audience members, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks.
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