Cult Appeal of 'Darko' Film Spawns Stage Version Richard Kelly's 2001 film Donnie Darko has become a cult favorite through relentless midnight screenings across the country. Now, a play that tries to capture the film's quick cuts through some 70 stage scenes is showing in Cambridge, Mass.
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Cult Appeal of 'Darko' Film Spawns Stage Version

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Cult Appeal of 'Darko' Film Spawns Stage Version

Cult Appeal of 'Darko' Film Spawns Stage Version

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Last night in a theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, an audience was startled by the appearance of a fury ghost. It was Frank, a sinister six-foot-tall bunny rabbit, first seen in the 2001 film, "Donnie Darko."

As Andrea Shea of member station WBUR reports, some have their doubts that the movie could work as a play.

ANDREA SHEA: Donnie Darko is the title character, but Frank the Rabbit provides the film deus ex machina when he gives Donnie, and everyone else, a limited time to live.

(Soundbite of movie "Donnie Darko")

Mr. JAMES DUVAL (Actor): (As Frank) Twenty-eight days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end.

SHEA: Or would have on Halloween 1988 if Frank had his way. To bring the menacing rodent alive on stage, the team at the American Repertory Theater copied the original costumes' maniacal design and distorted Frank's unnerving voice even more.

(Soundbite of play "Donnie Darko")

Mr. PERRY JACKSON (Actor): (As Frank) Twenty-eight days, 6 hours, 42 minutes.

SHEA: Frank is played by 23-year-old Perry Jackson who's spending more than an hour each night for the next month inside a metallic-gray bunny suit with a diabolical mask.

(Soundbite of zipper opening)

Mr. DAVE WILDMAN (Film Critic, The Weekly Dig): The thing that really worked well was Frank the Bunny.

SHEA: Dave Wildman was the chief film critic for Boston's Weekly Dig.

Mr. WILDMAN: They worked it so that it was something that kind of hovered over the stage, literally, Frank in red silhouette.

SHEA: As a fan of the film, Wildman was skeptical before last night's opening performance. But he says the movie's visuals translate pretty well to the stage as does the dialogue.

Writer and director Marcus Stern transcribed "Donnie Darko" word for word from the DVD because there was no script available when he got the idea a few years ago. But film critic Dave Wildman says the movie's quick cuts create their own problems.

Mr. WILDMAN: If someone hasn't seen the film, are they going to understand what's going on in this play? And I really have to wonder…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILDMAN: …because things happen so fast. It's almost watching the movie in fast forward.

SHEA: Writer and director Marcus Stern runs more than 70 scenes in just over an hour.

Mr. MARCUS STERN (Writer; Play Director, "Donnie Darko"): One scene is colliding on top of another. As another is starting there's another starting. Things are happening simultaneously in different parts of the stage to really sort of get a sense of an edited film.

SHEA: The plot takes in suburban teen angst, mental illness, Stephen Hawking's wormholes and a mysterious book on time travel that Donnie presses one of his teachers to explain.

(Soundbite of play "Donnie Darko")

Unidentified Man: The basic principles of time travel are there. You got your vessel and your portal. And your vessel can be just about anything most likely a space craft.

Mr. DAN McABELIKE (Actor): (As Donnie Darko) Like the DeLorean?

SHEA: The ill-fated car that served as a time travel vessel in another film is just one of many '80s references in the script that helped make "Donnie Darko" a cult favorite. Though the movie flopped in theaters when it came out in 2001, it since become and audience draw at midnight screenings around the country and a hot topic on Web sites and blogs.

Mr. JACKSON: It's one of those times when you watch a movie and you're just, like, what was that? What was that, really?

SHEA: Actor Perry Jackson, the man in the bunny suit, is a self proclaimed Darkoist. He first saw the film as an undergrad and video store clerk.

Mr. JACKSON: And just became totally obsessed with it. The '80s music like the Tears for Fears, you know, I loved it, you know?

SHEA: That's the audience the American Repertoire Theater is trying to attract with "Donnie Darko." It follows writer-director Marcus Stern's punk rock cabaret collaboration with Boston band, The Dresden Dolls. With "Donnie Darko," Stern would like to see audiences more accustomed to film than footlights.

Mr. STERN: I mean, I think it would be nice if more and more people who wouldn't necessarily come to the theater really came and saw the story and felt like, wow, this really is an interesting viable option to see stories live and be in the same room as the story unfolds.

SHEA: And maybe they'll even come back more than once to figure out what's going on onstage and to creep themselves out just feet from a man in a rabbit suit.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea.

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