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PROPOSAL - The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh

Directed by Britt Urey

Vision Statement

Preface: I will be using gender neutral language to refer to the characters of the Count and Fernand Mondego, as I intend to cast either female-presenting or nonbinary performers in those roles. 

Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo is widely regarded as one of the greatest tales of revenge in literature, yet many people I’ve talked to are unfamiliar with the story beyond the broadest of strokes. They tend to be most familiar with the 2002 film adaptation, which while a fine work of cinema, differs significantly from the original novel. We are thus presented with a golden opportunity: a show with name recognition that will be a fresh experience for the majority of the audience.  

Due to the influence of the film, and the popular perception of Dumas’s other works, The Count of Monte Cristo is often assumed to be a swashbuckler. However, the original text is far closer to what we would consider a thriller, featuring a fast-paced narrative with twists and turns that leave the audience on the edge of their seats. While the story is almost 200 years old, Dumas addresses themes that are all too relevant in contemporary America, namely the relationships between justice and revenge, and capital and power. The criminal conspiracy responsible for ruining the Count’s life consists of a ruthless banker, a war criminal turned politician, and a corrupt prosecutor, power brokers that would feel right at home in our current sociopolitical environment. The disenfranchised of today can live vicariously through the Count, enacting retribution against those who elude justice through their influence.

Outside of its contemporary relevance, the story is a fascinating character study on its own. The Count lies as easily as breathing, yet their tormentors cannot help but be drawn to them, ensuring their own destruction. Despite possessing unfathomable wealth, enough to leave their old life far behind, the Count is driven to exact their revenge. While they stop short of killing their targets, death may seem preferable to the utter ruination they leave the conspirators in. In short, the Count would be a villain in any other story… if the objects of their vengeance weren’t far, far worse. Motivated by greed, envy, lust, and pride, all of the conspirators have committed further atrocities since they first condemned Edmond Dantes to a life in prison.


A particular aspect of Walsh’s adaptation that I want to highlight is that it places the Count’s companions in the spotlight, as Dantes was far from the only one trampled by the conspirators in their rise to power. Benedetto, a young cutthroat, and Haydee, an enslaved girl from the Ottoman Empire, are indispensable to the Count’s plan, but have their own agendas which drive the plot forward. The problematic romance between Haydee and the Count has also been reworked into a one-sided crush on the former’s part.

As a trans person and a comic book fan, a theme that I want to emphasize in my production is the power of reinvention. The identity of Edmond Dantes is shattered by betrayal, so they craft the new persona of the Count to reclaim their own agency, after which none of their former acquaintances recognize them. The Count’s companions conceal their own identities, which allows them to strike at the conspirators’ deepest, darkest vulnerabilities. The conspirators themselves are all from working or middle class backgrounds and have since elevated to the ranks of nobility through their misdeeds, which they buried to preserve their status. All have been liberated through the power of reinvention, allowing them to move unhindered by the constraints of society in pursuit of their desires.

For that reason, it is my desire to cast a female-presenting or nonbinary performer as the Count. They are already a transgressor against the entrenched social order, willfully crossing the lines of civility and legality to reclaim their power. Why not gender as well? The Count’s rage at an unjust system could apply as much to their misunderstood identity as their wrongful incarceration. And the Count’s status as an outsider gives them an irresistible allure, drawing men and women alike into their plot.

I would also want to cast Fernand Mondego in a similar fashion. While all of the conspirators serve as dark counterparts to the Count and agents of patriarchy, Fernand is unique in being Dantes’s romantic rival. Having the characters both be of non-masculine gender identities would highlight their similarities while enhancing the queerness of their relationships with Mercedes. 

Stylistically I will be taking inspiration from the artwork of Yoshitaka Amano (in particular Vampire Hunter D), the anime adaptation of Castlevania, the Takarazuka Revue theatre troupe, and the Elegant Gothic Aristocrat style of Japanese street fashion. While it doesn’t fall within the genre of gothic horror, The Count of Monte Cristo nevertheless shares many tropes with it. Villefort’s former residence in Auteuil is haunted by memories rather than an actual ghost, but monstrous deeds occurred just the same. The Count is a figure of allure bordering on the supernatural and is even likened to a vampire, while the conspirators are equally vampiric in their societal predation. Similarly, Gothic fashion, particularly the Aristocrat subgenre, is heavily inspired by styles popular in Dumas’s era, as well as having an androgynous quality to compliment the queer themes.

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