MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we've been coming out to play and next we'll hear about a very particular kind of play.
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A stage play.
Because it looks like…
Yes, it looks like a body.
That's because it is a body, a corpse less than a day. Now, we can put on a show.
Well, a stage play within a stage play really.
You had a body, a cadaver delivered to my theatre?
I did not have time to procure it myself.
All right. So what you're hearing now is a rehearsal of a play about a rehearsal of a play. The actual play being rehearsed, that is, not the play within a play, but the play itself comes to us care of this guy.
MR. STEVE SPOTSWOOD
I'm Steve Spotswood. I'm the playwright of "The Resurrectionist King."
And for those unfamiliar with that term, resurrectionist, well, all this talk of cadavers and bodies gives you a bit of a hint. See, back in the 19th century...
Doctors needed to test out their anatomical theories and, like, actually practice surgery and it was before there was any access to bodies. Like, people were donating bodies.
So sometimes people would be hired to sneak into cemeteries...
And dig up corpses.
And Washington D.C.'s most legendary resurrectionist, the king, if you will, was Vigo Jansen.
Who was such a huge personality and he loved publicity. So anytime he ever got in trouble he would run to "The Washington Post" and he told them these fantastical stories and they loved it, they printed it.
And the public just ate it up. So it wasn't long before Jansen became quite the, I guess you could say, celebrity.
Not celebrity, but like, yes, infamous celebrity, I guess.
And in 1884, he decided to grace his adoring public with what he intended to be a very serious, very straight, one night, one man show.
Telling people about why he did what he did and why it was necessary.
And it was this show that helped inspire "The Resurrectionist King," which imagines what might have happened during those 24 fateful hours before Vigo Jansen took the stage.
There is actually a review in "The Washington Post" of this show and it was awful. It was honestly one of the worst reviews I've ever read.
Apparently, Jansen was drinking in the wings, staggering all over the stage, slurring his speech.
They said that his performance, like, degenerated into a farce.
And as Tom Prewitt...
MR. TOM PREWITT
I'm director of "Resurrectionist King."
...loves to recount...
My favorite part of that Washington Post review was that the onstage actor, stagehand, who was playing the body being resurrected, he kept giggling during the show and, in fact, there were catcalls from the audience. The audience noticed it too clearly so I thought that was hilarious.
As we heard in our rehearsal scene, my man Jansen wants to use this corpse in this show, right, a real live body, but the manager of D.C.'s Theatre Comique is totally wigged out. So as Spotswood imagines it, Jansen's stage manager...
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...comes up with an alternative.
Mr. Jansen, does the body have to be dead, the body that you resurrect?
They are usually dead, yes.
But just for tonight.
What are you suggesting?
That we get someone to play the corpse.
So she asks a stagehand named Saul, who just happens to be the son of the manager of D.C.'s Theatre Comique, who as you can imagine...
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...is less than thrilled.
He's a stagehand.
All he would have to do is play dead.
It's his decision.
No, it's not. I'm his supervisor and his father.
And I'm the stage manager. What happens on stage is my responsibility. So are you always going to do what he tells you?
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What do I have to do?
Mary Resing runs Active Cultures, the Maryland based theatre company producing "The Resurrectionist King." Active Cultures specializes in what Resing calls, vernacular theater.
MS. MARY RESING
Meaning that we do plays that are really locally specific. They're in the language of the people.
So she says Steve Spotswood's story about Vigo Jansen fits right in.
It's based on actual events from his life so it's really local. And for me, I'm such a big fan of local cemeteries. I grew up near Congressional Cemetery in D.C. and this is a really cool story.
But says Spotswood, for all the plays coolness, for its slapstick, screwball humor...
It is very funny, I guess. I hope it will be very funny. It's very funny to us.
At its heart, it's also pretty serious.
I get to insert all of these very, very dark elements because his profession is digging up corpses, which if you actually start thinking about it, it's an incredibly morbid, terrible thing that this man did.
And in real life, Vigo Jansen came to an incredibly morbid, terrible end three years after his flop at The Theatre Comique.
Also in The Washington Post, there's his obituary. And in 1887, he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a fleabag motel in New York City.
But of course, "The Resurrectionist King" doesn't look that far ahead.
Our play takes place over the course of one evening in 1884 and we leave totally open what happens to the fictional Vigo Jansen.
But the real Vigo Jansen definitely will go down in D.C. history as a man who stole headlines, captured imaginations and in spite of everything, succeeded in being larger than life. "The Resurrectionist King" opens March 30th at Joe's Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Maryland. For ticket information, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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