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In Horror, He Trusts: Chase Harrison debuts original story based on the creepy folklore of ‘Wendigo’

With its founding in Native American roots, “Wendigo” covers the suspicious transformation of a human into a strange creature that stood over 15-feet tall. His glowing eyes, stained fangs and matted hair tower over anyone he desires to eat. His insatiable drive for human flesh keeps him alive and turns all others into Wendigos if they eat human flesh while alive in order to survive. It’s a tale of cannibalism to cringe anyone’s skin.

We’ve all been bitten, for lack of a better word, by the allure of campfire ghost stories. Against the eerie backdrop of the black night, hidden deep in the forest, one man’s words can incite many fears. The glow of the fire and decadence of the s’mores keeps many listening with baited breath. Big Foot. The Hook. Wendigo.

Local actor, writer and director Chase Harrison always was fascintaed by his father’s propensity to tell a good ghost story. Gathered around a campfire, and in an isolated area where Harrison was reared, he first learned about the massive hairy creature that eats flesh. “It’s where I heard the legend of the Wendigo,” Harrison says. “Those early stories are what caused me to research more on the legend.”

With its founding in Native American roots, “Wendigo” covers the suspicious transformation of a human into a strange creature that stood over 15-feet tall. His glowing eyes, stained fangs and matted hair tower over anyone he desires to eat. His insatiable drive for human flesh keeps him alive and turns all others into Wendigos if they eat human flesh while alive in order to survive. It’s a tale of cannibalism to cringe anyone’s skin.

“I want to expand on it in my own way,” Harrison tells. “Wendigo” is Harrison’s first show to be produced at Browncoat Pub and Theatre on July 16 to 19, 23 to 26 30 to 31 and August 1 to 2. It’s part of Browncoat’s dedication to producing original stage plays as part of their 2015 theme, “Amazing Wonder Stories.” Last year Harrison staged H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Re-animator” at TheatreNOW and learned a lot from overseeing a horror show come to life. “I’ve learned what aspects become really important for building the atmosphere of the show,” Harrison says about “Re-animator,” one of his favorite horror films to date.

The genre—specifically horror from the ‘70s and ‘80s—always inspired the writer. He claims watching a scary film as more for research than entertainment. “Also John Carpenter!” Harrison excites. “The master of horror himself is a heavy influence on my work.”

In fact, Harrison did a marathon-watch of all Carpenter films while writing “Wendigo.” He wanted to understand every choice Carpenter made, from music to lighting to set.

“From the very start of the show, I came at it with one thought: make the horror movie that I would have watched when I was a kid,” Harrison tells. He cast a group of locals, and even named their characters after some of his heroes in the genre: Jamie Davenport plays Scott Romero (i.e., George Romero, “Dawn of the Dead”); Blake Howard plays Jackie Carpenter (i.e., John Carpenter, “The Thing”); Tony Choufani plays Ben Hooper (i.e., Tobe Hooper “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”); and Phil Antonino takes on Pete Gordon (i.e. Stuart Gordon, “Re-Animator”). Harrison has worked with the majority of the cast beforehand. That their strengths were already known helped. 

“One of my favorite elements about horror films is how often the same people appear in each other’s works again and again, such as Rob Zombie films,” Harrison tells. “It makes me excited to work with Phil again. We appeared onstage in ‘Dracula Re-Imagined,’ and Phil starred as Herbert West on ‘Re-Animator.’”

Antonino (winner of Best Actor from Wilmington Theater Awards) plays the friend who always has the last word and knows how to bait a fight. “He’s the one friend your mommy just didn’t care for much,” Harrison describes. “And Pete may very well be the reason all this hell is being brought down upon them.”

The heart and soul of the brotherhood is Choufani’s Ben. He’s the gentle giant who knows how to temper attitudes. Blake Howard (who’s also doing set design, by creating a hunting cabin in the woods) plays Jackie as “the defacto leader of the group,” according to Harrison. He’s logical and attempts to prevent things from going from bad to worse.

Back to the stage for the first time in years is Jamie Davenport, who is playing Scott. Davenport appreciates the range Harrison has written for each character. Scott is someone essentially lost in his head. He attempts to find a state of normalcy again by returning to his friends’ hunting trip, which he missed over the past four years. Scott’s search for peace has been most intriguing to Davenport in finding the measure and rhythm of emotion.

“It’s unlike anyone I’ve done so far,” Davenport says. “The scene between Tony’s character Ben and my character is a favorite. I like the way it gives a flicker of light in the distance (which just might be an iceberg) and it really gives a sense of the characters’ humanity. There’s some heart to the story, and it carries that scene well.”

Harrison’s vision for the show, from its early script stages (three drafts were written) to final direction, has impressed Davenport as well. Though Harrison admits having to show restriction toward editing, Davenport says it’s allowed fluctuality in creating depth.

“Those little ideas that happen when crafting the moment—that then become moments themselves—have been really fun,” Davenport tells. “It’ll be a horror show.”

Though the gore expected of horror will be there, Harrison makes sure the audience cares what happens to each character, too. He delves into their history with one another—how bonds were built between friendships. Their ease of dialogue has been incremental. 

“I kept wanting to add this or change that so often that it was driving me just as crazy as the characters themselves,” Harrison quips. “‘Wendigo’ takes these life-long best friends and drops them in a meat grinder, and we’ll see who comes out the other end—and what is left of them. . . .  The plot is there, the characters are there, and any other changes will be done on set.”

More impressive is “Wendigo” will have an original score, as composed by Brennan Scott of Wilmington band Raimi. “He focuses on horror-based music, and brings such a feel to the show that really enhances suspense,” Harrison says. 

Unlike film, Harrison won’t have the luxury to edit angles and quick cuts, but he has had fun finding “clever ways to hide ‘gags’” for the live performance. As well, the makeup will impress.

“Having been a part of a number of horror-based productions at the Browncoat, I can say, for a fact, that this is not the bloodiest of shows to have been performed,” Harrison tells, “but what we do have planned will easily make it the most disturbing.” 

From page to actors to stage, “Wendigo” gets its first audience on July 9, with an 8 p.m. showing. Harrison says, “All in all, I got a chance to tell a story I wanted, and with any luck and a bit of fright—a whole lot of fright—entertain some folks.” 

DETAILS:
Wendigo
July 16-19, 23-26, 30-31, August 1-2, 8 p.m.;
5 p.m. on Sundays • $10-$15
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street
www.browncoattheatre.com

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