BY JESS PEACOCK
On October 17th in 1975, Doubleday Publishing released the novel ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King’s sophomore follow-up to the bestselling Carrie. ‘Salem’s Lot has proven to be a novel of lasting endurance, encapsulating, among other things, a post-Vietnam/post-Watergate America and a mercurial society entrenched in an ethos of paranoia and distrust with regard to the once assumed integrity of institutions of government and religious faith. Through this narrative, King dissected the unique oppression endemic to the insular culture of small-town America, particularly in the mid-1970s when home computers, cell phones, and social networking were incipient to non-existent.
Oh, and there were vampires.
While King at one time contemplated a sequel to his take on the Dracula mythos, having told Fangoria in the 1980s, “I think about a sequel a lot. I even know who would be in it and how it would launch…it’s Father Callahan. I know where he is,” the best those waiting for a follow-up could hope for is the defeated Catholic priest’s redemption arc in The Dark Tower series. However, in King’s collection of short stories entitled Night Shift, the author let his constant readers know that it wasn’t quite finished in Jerusalem’s Lot with the effectively creepy tale entitled One for the Road.
Forty years after the publication of Night Shift, recent UC Davis graduate Brett Stults hopes to remind audiences of what happens when one ventures too close to “the Lot” in his upcoming stage adaptation of Stephen King’s One for the Road. Taking place on October 26th and 27th at the Rio Linda Elverta Community Theater in northern California, the production is described by Stults as a “labor of love for a small community” that believes in “thinking big and pursuing their dreams when it comes to theater.”
Why One for the Road? What was it about this Stephen King short story that you felt would be good for a stage adaptation?
Over the years, I’ve dabbled in stand-up comedy, short films, and theatre, but I never took on a project quite like One for the Road before. I read the bulk of Night Shift – which is the short story collection that’s home to One for the Road – as a kid one weekend after I had purchased it at a church book sale, but I never got around to reading that story in particular until I was much older. Reading it while my wife was asleep next to me and our daughter was sleeping in her room down the hall from us very quickly heightened my fears as I read Lumley’s pleas to help rescue his wife and daughter from a snowstorm. As much as I was hooked by the threat of the supernatural, the base fear of being unable to protect your family really gnawed at me.
“the base fear of being unable to protect your family really gnawed at me.”
There is also something claustrophobic and intimate about One for the Road that really lends itself to the stage. You have these scenes that only take place in a bar, a car, and back in the bar. The story opens with this horrendous snowstorm that forces everyone to stay indoors, but then there’s this break in the mundane as this out-of-towner stumbles into a local bar moments before it’s closed for the evening, which then forces the hands of the other characters. It’s beautiful in how it presents the drama, sets the stakes (no pun intended), and lets the characters react to everything presented to them.
The challenge of adapting One for the Road came in not only adapting the exposition into dialogue and actable moments on the stage, but finding a theatre company that would take on a feat like this; fortunately, my friends DJ Stipe and Kris McCandless happened to be members of the Rio Linda Elverta Theater Company, and they had a host of actors who were perfect for this production. The company and the community really got around the idea of taking this adaptation seriously — everyone is excited to see how it will turn out.
What was the process like securing the rights to adapt the story for the stage?
I was wrapping up my thesis at UC Davis and I was looking for a creative project that I could work on over the summer. I had read about Stephen King’s Dollar Babies where people could “buy” the rights to a Stephen King property to be turned into a short film or stage production. On a whim I submitted an application, and within a week I heard from Stephen King’s people that I had been approved to adapt One for the Road for the stage. The agreement with Stephen King is that the adaptation cannot be a commercial product — it’s a way for artists to explore an established story, but with their creative spin. Since the Rio Linda Elverta Theater Company is a nonprofit organization, we were able to acquire the rights for a limited run.
A stipulation of the contract is that Mr. King is to receive a recording of the final product, and is the only person to receive a recording of the final product, which means no DVD sales or streaming online. I can understand that some people may get upset by that, but the fact that Stephen King is letting people adapt and play with his work is a privilege in and of itself. At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of what a group of burgeoning artists can do with an established work.
The story is a pseudo-sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Were you a fan of the book or mini-series?
Some people see One for the Road as a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, but I think of it more as a parallel text. Yeah, there are very clear connections to the end of the novel, but it really seems to focus on the lives of the people around “the Lot”, and not the inhabitants of “the Lot.” Once I got approval to adapt the story I immediately read ‘Salem’s Lot and watched the original miniseries. I really wanted to a get a sense of what that world was like prior to the events of One for the Road which ultimately impacted my stage direction and less so actually adapting the short story into a stage play. A key thing about modern vampire fiction is that everyone has their own spin on how to interpret these creatures. Some people think they should look demonic in their vampire form, others think they should sparkle, so it was important that I get a sense of how the vampires in this short story were represented in other texts.
Have you ever done horror on stage before? Are there any particular challenges for making the genre work before a live audience?
I have never done horror on the stage before, but I have done a lot of comedy. I say that because I feel there are similar elements to both: the audience is aware of the genre they’re seeing, so they have clear expectations; however, they don’t know exactly when they’ll laugh or scream. In the case of horror, there is a rising tension that comes through and it’s necessary to properly release that tension before the audience either loses interest or can’t take it anymore. There is enough natural, human tension throughout One for the Road that when it comes to the reveal that ‘Salem’s Lot is a haven for vampires — and we actually see them — the payoff is just that much greater. The tension shifts from natural to supernatural — the threat is beyond human control and rationale, and it enters the realm of horror. It has been a lot of fun borrowing what I know from comedy and applying it to horror — there isn’t a punchline, but there might be a gallon of blood.
Any future plans to adapt other King works, or bring a different horror property to the stage?
There are no current plans to adapt another King work, but this experience has certainly been a catalyst to produce more horror with the Rio Linda Elverta Theater Company. There’s talk of adapting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow into an updated stage production focusing on the history of Rio Linda. I’ve kicked around the idea of adapting some H.P. Lovecraft stories into a collection of horror shorts. And, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes has been turned into a stage play, so there is talk of doing that as a production in the near future. I don’t think there are enough horror productions in theater, so I would like to see if we can make that a staple in October with the Rio Linda Elverta Community Theater.
Tickets for the two performance of One for the Road are currently on sale at www.rlectheater.org. If you can’t make it but you love to support community theater then consider donating to the Rio Linda Elverta Community Theater.