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Dying on stage: Cartoonist writes play about angel of death

Die hard: Actors Alex Emanuel as Harry Kane, left, and Linus Gelber as Joe, rehearse a bar scene from Dean Haspiel’s play “Harakiri Kane (Die! Die, Again),” debuting at the Brick on Oct. 28.
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It’s curtains for him!

A Carroll Gardens cartoonist known for creating world-shaking heroes will take his action to a smaller stage this month, with an existential drama about an angel of death opening at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg on Oct. 28. Artist-turned-playwright Dean Haspiel says that his show “Harakiri Kane (Die! Die, Again)” explores more interpersonal issues than the epic battles he has depicted in comics like “Batman Adventures” or “The Red Hook.”

“One way I describe comics is there’s an unlimited budget with a blank piece of paper and you can draw anything you want,” he said. “But in theater it’s live, and it involves a collection of people basically interpreting your words — there’s a lot more talking going on in theater, but in comics there’s a lot more action.”

His play follows boxer Harry Kane, nicknamed “Harakiri” after the Japanese word for suicide because people around him keep dying. But soon he realizes that he sees so much death because he is in the afterlife.

“In his encounters he realizes that people all around him are dying within five minutes of meeting him,” said Haspiel. “He died a year ago and doesn’t know it, and he’s like this angel of death with amnesia.”

The play then becomes a murder-mystery, as Kane tries to discover who he is, how he died, and what keeps him connected to the mortal realm.

Haspiel was inspired to write the story after a series of morbid encounters while he was living on the distant isle of Manhattan in the 1990s. His frequent brushes with hit-and-runs, suicides, and vehicular accidents started to affect his psyche, he said.

“Every time I would step out the door, someone was getting hit by car or jumping off a building, and I felt so many feelings clumped together,” said Haspiel. “In some ways I started to take it personal and I thought I was a magnet for death.”

In response, the usually active artist started disconnecting from social engagements and staying inside, afraid of encountering more death on the streets. A move to the peaceful streets of Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens broke the chain of deadly incidents, and Haspiel channelled his feelings into the initial script for “Harakiri,” originally intended as a movie script, then a comic book, and eventually a stage play. The plot has survived the transition between media, he said.

“My stories can be so versatile that they can be shot, and produced live, even if they were drawn for a comic book,” said Haspiel.

Other characters among the 14-person cast include a serial killer, a chef, and Kane’s love interest Sharon, played by adult actress Stoya. Haspiel and Stoya met while working on a comic book story for Heavy Metal magazine, and she was drawn to the role because it gives her a chance to tackle a new kind of part, she said, and because she was intrigued by the plot.

“What made the role appealing to me is that it’s rare that I’m offered a role that is anything other than a sex worker — this was a real role,” she said. “I think any good story is a metaphor in a way, and ‘Harakiri Kane’ can be about mortality, or a metaphor for art and creative instincts, and that’s what makes it good.”

“Harakiri Kane (Die! Die, Again)” at the Brick [579 Metropolitan Ave. between Lorimer Street and Union Avenue in Williamsburg, (718) 907–6189, www.bricktheater.com]. Opens Oct. 28 at 8 pm and continues through Nov. 20 at various times. $20.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 11:23 am, October 23, 2017
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