Justin Madol as Donnie Darko (with Frank in the background, of course.)
Sarah Smellie chats with young playwright and director Jamie MacDonald about his new, ambitious project, Darko.
“I was ready to jump in over my head with this one,” says Jamie MacDonald as he fiddles with the Facebook page for his upcoming event.
Over his head, indeed. He’s not only undertaken the ballsy endeavour of starting up Embryo Theatre, a new local theatre company, but he’s chosen Embryo’s first production to be—yes—a stage adaptation of the 2001 cult film Donnie Darko, called Darko, which he wrote himself.
“Woah,” he says, eyes widening at the computer screen infront of him. “I’ve got a lot of confirmed guests.”
The film, which was written and directed by Richard Kelly, is about a high school kid named Donnie Darko whose upper class, 1980s suburban life is disrupted by nightly visits from Frank, a man-sized bunny rabbit with a mangled, menacing mug. Frank saves Donnie from being crushed by an errant plane engine which crashes into his bedroom one night, and then orders him to perform a variety of troubled teenage offenses about town—one of which results in Patrick Swayze’s motivational speaker character being exposed as a child pornographer. Of course, scary giant bunnies don’t exist, so Donnie gets put on medication for schizophrenia while his parents wring their hands and buy him a new bedroom set.
However, it turns out Frank is real. He’s a messenger from the future who was only trying to help Donnie save the world, which Donnie does by jumping into a cosmic wormhole to go back in time and be crushed by that jet engine.
“It’s definitely a favorite movie of mine,” says Jamie, who seems unfazed with people’s gaping-mouthed, wide-eyed response to his idea of adapting the story for the local stage. “When I started thinking about it and talking about it to people, just their reactions to the idea…it was like, ‘yeah, that’s the kind of thing I want, that’s what I want to evoke.’ ”
His adaptation, which he has been working on for just over two years, was carefully scrutinized by Richard Kelly and his legal entourage. In the adaptation, Jamie employs crafty combinations of U.V. lights, well-placed stage doubles and hidden actors, film projections, and what he describes as “a really elaborate soundscape” to convey some of the key special effects and editing in the film—all of which impressed Kelly and company.
“They seemed to be really into it,” he says.
Though he managed to sneak in a few script tweaks, Jamie has really tried to remain faithful to the film, most notably to its notorious openness to interpretation.
“There’s a lot ambiguousness in the movie that you can’t change, that you shouldn’t change,” he says. “Whenever we had to make a choice in the play to deal with that, we just tried to find a way to step over it, to allow it to be there, and just let the audience choose.”
Jamie, who is only 21 but has already worked with the Beothuck Street Players, Shakespeare By The Sea, Rabbittown Theatre, and Pope Productions, has to return to Toronto to finish his degree in Theatre Performance this fall, and will leave Embryo dormant for a while. But he plans to pick up where he’s leaving off as soon as he finishes.
He says Darko reflects a lot of his goals for future Embryo productions.
“I just want to bring a new, younger crowd of people to the theatre, people who don’t normally go, and show them that you can do extraordinary things with it.” •
Embryo Theatre’s “Darko” runs from August 28th to August 30th at the Holy Heart of Mary Auditorium. Regular performances start at 8 p.m. Special “dark night” performances on Friday and Saturday night start at 10:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available at the Holy Heart Theatre, the Victory Tavern, and Allan’s Video for 11$. Tickets available at the door for 15$.