W&L’s Gavaler Debuts Play Professor Chris Gavaler’s play “The Zombie Life” will open at Firehouse Theatre in Richmond, Virginia on Aug. 18.
Chris Gavaler, associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University, has written a play, “The Zombie Life,” that will make its stage debut on Aug. 18 at Firehouse Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, with a limited run of eight performances. The show will run Aug. 18-29, with mostly evening performances and a matinee on the final day.
Expanding on the idea that sometimes human existence is so painful that it would be better off to be one of the “walking dead,” Gavaler’s show presents a self-help workshop for humans seeking zombie conversion. The rebirth of sorts is conducted by a therapist who offers a peculiar remedy for life’s trials and challenges. The therapist’s assistants have completed the conversion process and provide testimonials on its effectiveness. Throughout the 90-minute production, the zombie assistants begin to go off script, a trait not uncommon for the undead.
Gavaler has written several one-act plays, including four winners of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, and he had a full-length play about John Wilkes Booth workshopped by Orlando Shakespeare. “The Zombie Life” is his first full-length stage production.
The idea behind the zombies was first conceived a decade ago when Gavaler drafted the original short story “Zombie Monologues.” Years later, Gavaler decided to turn the short story into a play as a way to bond with his sister, Joan Gavaler, director of the production.
“Joan is a dancer and choreographer and a former department chair of the College of William and Mary’s theater department,” Gavaler said. “I’d seen the work she did as a movement director for a couple of productions and thought the monologues would give her a lot of possibilities to explore. At first, she served as dramaturg, working with me to develop the play’s structure around the new character of the therapist. Once the revised text was in good shape, she approached Joel Bassin, the producing artistic director at Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre, where she had performed before. Joel liked it and offered to produce it.”
The play was initially scheduled to debut in August 2020, but the pandemic pushed production back to this year.
“At the start of 2021, we again got the green light for a stage production and started rehearsals back up, now with three new cast members,” Gavaler said. “Joan’s directorial style is not surprisingly movement-based, so she would ask for specific revisions and additions based on how the play was unfolding physically on stage. Our two skill areas, text and movement, are a perfect collaboration.”