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Tom Dunn (FCRH '94)

Writer-Director Pokes Fun at Celebrity-Obsessed Culture

Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Nearly three years ago, in the spring of 2001, Tom Dunn, FCRH '94, began plotting Woody Allen's demise.

As the managing director of the Empty Stage Theatre Company, Dunn had planned to stage Death, a one-act play Allen wrote more than 30 years ago and later used as the basis for his 1992 film Shadows and Fog. A month before opening night, however, Dunn received a call from Allen's attorney informing him that the rights to produce the play would not be granted. Frustrated and determined not to lose all the money the company had invested—the theater had been booked, the cast hired—he scrambled to put on a different production.

At the same time, Dunn and his writing partners, Dan Callahan and Brendan Connor, decided to create their own dark comedy. If they couldn't stage Woody Allen's Death, they figured, why not stage Woody Allen's death?

Not his actual death, of course, but a satirical whodunit set at his fictional funeral service.

The plot of Who Killed Woody Allen? is simple: Allen has died and several of his famous friends and associates, who have gathered at an Upper East Side funeral home to pay their respects, become prime suspects when a police detective interrupts the service to announce that Allen was poisoned.

The play also derives much of its humor from the actors' portrayals of the celebrities—including Billy Crystal, Spike Lee, Diane Keaton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Conan O'Brien, John Cusack and Chrisopher Walken. Crystal (played by Christopher Wisner) is the emcee of the service, which plays out as a parody of the Academy Awards, complete with opening song—"Funeral Tonight," sung to the tune of "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—and self-promoting speeches.

As recent articles in Newsweek and the New York Post noted, the real-life director is no fan of his own "death." Allen has not attended a performance and reportedly disapproves of the production. But satire, like imitation, is a form of flattery, and Dunn, who remains a devoted fan of the Academy Award-winning director, said there is nothing vindictive about the production.

"The play certainly was born out of our frustration with losing the rights to Death right before it was scheduled to open," Dunn said. "But it became more than that. It's not meant to be bitter or vengeful or personal. It's actually less about Woody and more about our celebrity-obsessed culture … and deflating a group of people who take themselves way too seriously."

In February 2003, during the play's second, sold-out run, the Daily News agreed, calling it a "raucous, silly and consistently hilarious show biz sendup that unfolds as a Hollywood whodunit."

Before founding the Empty Stage Theatre Company in November 2000, Dunn spent several years honing his skills by writing and performing sketch comedy at places like Caroline's and Catch a Rising Star in New York and at the HBO Workspace in Los Angeles. He credits his undergraduate involvement with Mimes and Mummers for introducing him to the artistic and financial responsibilities of managing a theater company.

"We got a budget for productions, hired directors," he said of his work with the Rose Hill theater group. "It was a great experience, great training for what I'm doing now."

—Ryan Stellabotte


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