Dallas native Draven Gonzalez breathes new life into the horror genre
Imagine taking a brief journey through hell with five of your closest friends because of a careless mistake. Imagine being sent there by a cross-dresser with a bad attitude and poor fashion taste. Now, imagine the only way out of this nightmare is to pass through an entity otherwise known as "Our Lady of the Corrugated Vagina."
This may sound like a campy, low-budget movie you would find on the Independent Film Channel, but it's actually the plot of The Afterlife, the latest production at the Woodlawn Theatre. The political satire was written and directed by Dallas playwright Draven Gonzalez.
What was he thinking? "The thing that fascinates me most is that people don't know what they're getting into when they see it," Gonzalez says. "The drag character that plays Ellie Sue gives herself an abortion on stage, and you just see `the fetus` fall on the floor. That's the thing about this play: It's very in your face. It's about acceptance and love. I just go a different way around it."
Gonzalez began writing The Afterlife in November 1999, shortly after graduating from college. Originally he intended it to be a slap-ass kind of comedy, something with little substance. But after tragic events such as the Columbine shootings and the murder of Matthew Shepard, the play took a more political turn.
The plot - Gonzalez describes it as a cross between Dante's Inferno and South Park - is very different from his theatrical debut, Fenced In, which he wrote and staged while attending Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University-San Marcos). The play later premiered in San Antonio at the Woodlawn Theatre. Fenced In was more autobiographical. "It was basically my coming-out story," Gonzalez explains. "Everybody I met in college is in that first play."
Gonzalez jokes that he has known he was gay since the 1920s but, says the 29-year-old, "I never actually put a label on it until I was in college. I started meeting all these people, of course in the theatre department.
They kind of helped shape me into who I am today."
Growing up with over-protective parents, Gonzalez says he was a "good kid" who still felt like he got away with a lot. Although he describes his upbringing as normal, he was raised in a "very Catholic" family. "Religion was sort of force-fed down my throat," he said. "'Don't do this, don't do that, if you do this you'll go to hell.' This fear was instilled in me at a very young age." This didn't discourage - and it may have encouraged - his fascination for horror movies.
Eventually DGC picked up the script - about gay zombies attacking gay victims - cleaned it up, and extended the story. Six months later, they were filming the movie, which became known as Zombies, in New England. "I grew up with horror," Gonzalez says. "I love horror. I never thought I'd be working in it because I love it so much."
Currently, Camp Daze, a movie for which Gonzalez served as screenwriter and assistant director, is in post production. It's an '80s-style slasher flick with a contemporary twist. A group of campers are stuck in 1981, reliving the same night over and over again, massacred at night and starting fresh in the morning. Think Friday the 13th meets Groundhog Day.
His first love may be horror, but Gonzalez says he will write whatever he is in the mood for, whether it is horror, comedy, or drama because he has received positive response to all three. Gonzalez enjoys the immediate reaction he gets from a live audience but theater and film both have their pros and cons. "On stage, once you do something, it's done. You can't go back and change it until the next performance. Whereas in film, you can work it and work it until you get what you want."
Gonzalez' favorite directors include Wes Craven, Harvey Fierstein, and Oliver Stone. "Camp Daze is very much like Wes Craven's Scream," Gonzalez says. "Fenced In was very Harvey Fierstein, comedy and tragedy mixed in. The Afterlife, I think, has a little bit of Oliver Stone. It's social commentary. He uses his films as his voice." •
By Chris Perez