Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti Bring Life to the Afterlife in Off-Broadway's Jasper in Deadland

By Michael Gioia
01 Apr 2014

Allison Scagliotti
photo by Matthew Murphy

Scagliotti was approached by Deadland director Brandon Ivie, whom she worked with on a production of Unhealthy at HERE Arts Center. Ivie sent her a message, via Facebook, asking if she was interested in inhabiting Deadland, although the musical's premiere coincided with pilot season. The frequent film actress was immediately won over with the material.

"It's everything that I've been wanting to do since I was five years old, [even though it was] in the middle of pilot season — and right when my Canadian boyfriend can be in Los Angeles — but it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up."

Doyle couldn't pass up the opportunity either when composer-lyricist Oliver reached out to the actor, via text.

"I've always loved [Ryan's] music, and I've always loved his shows, but I actually haven't sung some of his stuff in a really long time, and so he literally texted me one night — it was probably one in the morning, and I was with [boyfriend] Ryan [Steele]. 'Do you want to star in my Off-Broadway musical?' was the text," said Doyle. After receiving the Jasper material, he thought, "This is exactly what I want to do right now post-Book of Mormon, and I want to be creatively fulfilled and work on something special and small and unique… You don't get to do small projects like this in a church on the Upper West Side, you know?"

Jasper in Deadland, ironically housed within the walls of an uptown church — and loosely based on the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice — thrusts 17-year-old Jasper into the underworld when his best friend Agnes makes a rash decision to jump off a cliff and into a lake, falling to her death. Jasper, whose heart is wounded from his parents' destructive relationship, aims to rescue Agnes without falling too fast for his best friend and possibly tainting their relationship.

"He's terrified," explains Doyle, whose character Jasper is greeted in the underworld by Gretchen (Scagliotti). "I think he's absolutely horrified of — somebody he really, really, truly cares about — hurting her or being hurt by her. A friendship is safe. Going beyond that is only going to lead to pain and heartbreak, and that is the scariest thing for him. What's lovely about it is, Jasper really starts to discover — being in Deadland and watching these zombie-like, unaffected creatures down there — that pain and heartbreak and growth are important things in life and that you can't have love without pain, and that's okay. It's okay to face demons along the way, and that's what's going to make every great moment even better."

Along the way, Doyle's Jasper and Scagliotti's Gretchen encounter both good and evil in Deadland, a world somewhere between the realms of heaven and hell in which mythical creatures challenge their tenacity and where their souls are slightly altered as time passes.

"I don't really know what I believe happens after our physical vessel expires and there is this remainder of energy that we call a soul," explained Scagliotti. "But, I love the idea that we play with in Deadland — you go somewhere and you become your alter ego. You become the opposite of all your hang-ups and your pain that you had in the real world. That was my approach to the difference between Gretchen and Agnes. Maybe this is a spoiler, but as I had to determine what it was that made Gretchen a separate character from Agnes, I just realized that she had to be her opposite. Where Agnes felt like unwanted and rejected, Gretchen felt completely confident and embraced. And, where Agnes felt sensually unsure, Gretchen was a sexual being. That was my afterlife approach."

"If I had seen this show when I was 17, I would be obsessed," admitted Doyle. "And, I am obsessed with it now, but I'm just picturing myself — the kid who used to stage door Rent all the time — I would have died for this show."

Doyle and Scagliotti continue to face death in Deadland through April 13.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti
Photo by Matthew Murphy