By Thomas Stubbs, Staff Writer
When I reach the door to Randall David Cook’s office — I don’t have to knock; it’s already open — I am greeted by a man with a disarming smile set in a kind, pleasant face. He invites me inside and beckons me to take a seat. Instead of regarding me from behind a desk — separated by the authority of some great mahogany slab — he sits directly across from me, legs crossed, chair tilted back, perfectly at ease. Mr. Cook is an Artist-in-Residence, meaning that his time at Furman ends with the semester, but as we strike up a conversation — it’s technically an interview, of course, but all good interviews are conversations, gently guided — it becomes clear to me that he feels right at home.
At first glance, this should come as no surprise; Cook is a Furman alumnus, class of 1991. His time as an undergraduate, however, was not marked by regular visits to the playhouse. “My parents told me that I was going to be a business major, so that’s what I did,” Cook said. Though he nursed passions for both theatre and writing, he only pursued them on an extracurricular basis.
“I was the Editor-in-Chief of the Paladin, and I wrote a weekly movie review for the Diversions section as well. I managed to do one play with the Theatre department, Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well that Ends Well.’ I decided to audition, essentially on a whim, and as it turned out, there weren’t enough guys to fill all the roles in this nearly all-male show. The director was desperate, so I got cast.”
On the main, however, he kept his interests to himself. “In those days, we could only get The New York Times in the library, so I would go there every day, pick up their latest issue, and devour their arts section. My friends didn’t know that, though. I really was scared to talk about it.”
After spending much of this 20’s abroad, Cook returned to the United States, got his MBA and moved to New York City — for business. “That was really what I meant to do, but I was seeing so much theatre and film. I still loved it. So at first I thought: fine, I’ll go into theatre, but the business side of theatre.” His first job lasted three weeks and two days. He was to work with James Goldman (the eminent playwright whose works include “The Lion in Winter” and the musical “Follies”), but there was a snag. “Goldman was great,” Cook recalls. Then he smiles and adds a punchline that touches on both the glamour and the pettiness of the theatre industry: “but his wife was impossible.”
Ultimately, Cook became a playwright on a dare. “I would go out to plays with my friends, and often I was dissatisfied with what I saw. I complained and complained until finally they basically told me to put up or shut up, to either write a better play myself or stop going on about it.” This was the first of several plays that Cook has since written and gotten produced. One has run off-Broadway and one was recorded and broadcast by the BBC.
Now a successful playwright, Cook returned to Furman in 2005 for Homecoming and introduced himself to Theatre Department Chair Jay Oney. “I wanted to offer my services, anything I could do to raise the profile of the playhouse. Nothing came of it for some time, but in 2011 the Theatre department received a graAn Interview with “Kappa Kappa Scream” Playwright Randall David Cook
nt from the Duke Endowment that allowed them to bring in guest faculty. They invited me back the first time in 2013. I wrote a play for them then — ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ It was my first time working with college actors, and I absolutely loved it.”
This semester, Cook has returned to the Furman Theatre with a new play, the horror-thriller “Kappa Kappa Scream.” “It was a great challenge — writing a play like this. It scared me — no pun intended. It was so far outside my comfort zone. Nobody writes these kinds of plays anymore. People think that horror is only for the movies. I wanted to challenge that.” There’s comedy to be found in “Kappa Kappa Scream,” but make no mistake: it’s real horror. “It’s funny, but it’s not campy. We’ve got choreographed fights. There are death scenes. If we scare you, we’ll have succeeded.” He’s also playing a new role: that of professor. “It’s crazy to think about, considering what I do, but my first theatre class was one that I taught.”
He’s right at home with it, though, just as he is right at home in an office that will only be his for a few more months. It seems that the playhouse was always his home, and he’s finally been allowed to prove it. “I was offered the chance to come back to Furman and do what I should have done the first time. I feel so honored. You usually don’t get a second chance like that.”
“Kappa Kappa Scream,” a play by Randall David Cook, will have its world premier at the Furman Playhouse. “Kappa” will run Feb. 8th through 11th and Feb. 16th through 18th at 8 p.m., Feb. 12th at 3 p.m. and Feb. 10th and 17th at midnight.