Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meet Devlin Giroux: Bucking the Trend

JESTER Explores the Ambiguity Between Reality and Imagination

My first introduction to Devlin Giroux's play Jester was in the audition room. Stephen Cedars, Jester's director, asked actors to perform an impromptu dance. He asked them to evoke fear indirectly - to be creepy and unsettling, rather than aggressive, towards the person they were tasked with "entertaining". That's where I came in. Stephen needed someone for the auditioners to scare, so as the reader, I sat across from each of them, while they attempted to terrify me with their portrayals of the Jester. And terrify they did! 

Later, when I read the full script, I further understood why the Jester is so eerie. Marie, the character whom the Jester haunts, may or may not actually be seeing the Jester. The ambiguity in Giroux's play between what is real and what is imagined adds to the overall uneasiness that the play provokes. This is especially evident in that Marie is being held in a mental health facility, and everyone there seems to believe she's hallucinating. 

Devlin Giroux lives in Michigan, so I couldn't interview him in person, but he was kind enough to answer some questions about his play, his fears, and the challenges of writing horror:

Distinguishing between reality and imagination is a concept that has often appeared in psychological horror films. One example that comes to mind is the 1968 classic, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby. Throughout the film, Rosemary's paranoia grows as she fears that her child has been promised as a Satanic sacrifice. For viewers, a large part of what makes this film scary is that we don't know whether what Rosemary believes is the truth or a delusion. 

Uncertainty about reality continues to show up in more recent psychological horror films, touching on a wide array of topics. The Others (2001) features a woman who fears there are ghosts living in her house. In Flightplan (2005), a woman on an airplane is convinced her daughter was kidnapped, but everyone on the flight claims they never saw the child. Black Swan (2010) explores the gradual mental decline of a ballet dancer as she becomes increasingly paranoid and competitive.

Despite different portrayals of psychological horror, all of these films and Jester explore what happens when the truth isn't easily discernible. While zombies and vampires and ghosts are certainly scary in their own right, there's something particularly frightening about being unsure of what is real and what is not. This is especially scary when coupled with a disbelief on the part of others, like in Jester. Only Marie sees the Jester, and so she essentially has to confront her fear on her own, in the face of skepticism. In doing so, she also has to face herself, which might be the most frightening thing of all. 

--Claire Fishman

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