Daphne Rubin-Vega The Horror of Dolores Roach
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Credit: Gimlet Media

The Horror of Dolores Roach channels Sweeney Todd and Hitchcock in podcast form

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Oct 30, 2018, 4:00 PM EDT

Gimlet Media is exploring some very bad times at an empanada shop in Washington Heights with its new and terrifying podcast, The Horror of Dolores Roach.

Written by playwright Aaron Mark, the eight-episode podcast is based on Mark's Off-Broadway one-woman stage play, Empanada Loca, and stars Daphne Rubin-Vega (the original Mimi Marquez in Rent and star of Empanada Loca) and Bobby Cannavale (Jim Paxton in the Ant-Man films).

The story centers around the eponymous Dolores (Rubin-Vega) who has been incarcerated for the last 16 years. Upon her release, she discovers that the world has changed drastically in her absence. Perhaps worse, her boyfriend is missing. Dolores finds respite and a talent for giving massages in the basement of an empanada shop run by her old stoner buddy, Luis (Cannavale).

The plot soon takes a turn for the macabre and devolves into a tale of murder and cannibalism. Finally, Dolores is forced to hide out in the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan where she recounts how it all began.

"I'm a big fan of old-school theatrical thrillers like Angel Street and The Thirteenth Chair," Aaron Mark told SYFY WIRE in a recent phone interview. "I love the Hitchcockian radio of decades ago and radio shows like Suspense and Arch Obler and [stuff] like that. So, a lot of what I'm doing, in audio and in the theater, has been my own [re-imagining] of that kind of vibe."

Mark, who is a big proponent of French horror theater known as "Grand Guignol," was interested in doing a modern day re-telling of Sweeney Todd, the story of a murderous London barber, whose origins can be traced back to the Penny Dreadfuls, the British equivalent of pulp magazines in America, of the 19th Century.

"I become sort of perplexed by what it is about those stories we keep revisiting? And the idea of cannibalism — literally and figuratively — felt like something that was worth looking at right now in a society that is cannibalistic in certain ways," Mark said. "So, it was that larger thematic idea of a culture feeding on itself that I became really fixated on and the literal expression of that."

And while it seems like it would be pretty difficult to expand a one-woman play into eight-episodes, Mark revealed that it was actually the opposite that ended up coming true.

"Once there was this idea, 'Oh my God, she can talk to other people,' it was like endless and I just wanted to write and write and write and write," he said.

Luckily, Gimlet Media's head of scripted content, Mimi O'Donnell really helped him focus the story, going so far as to axe a three-episode arc about a health inspector.

The Horror of Dolores Roach Daphne Rubin-Vega Bobby Cannavale

Credit: Gimlet Media

Thanks to the elements of homicide and people-eating, you've definitely got horror going on in the podcast, but Mark also insisted that the scares are also from Dolores's unfamiliarity with the world, which is not the same one she knew when she went to prison. And while Dolores does become a murderer, she never deviates from who she is, the central protagonist and the narrator. This wicked individual never transforms into what Mark calls "The Other."

"I hope what's scary is this idea of us all only really being separated by circumstance and that here's this person we're very much meant to identify with and love and yet, she's capable of these horrible things," he said. "I hope that the takeaway is that we can still identify with the humanity in those people. [Dolores] very much represents that for me."

Indeed, the idea of turning people into 'Others' (whether based on their race, gender, or other criteria) was relevant societal motif that he wanted to examine under the lens of Dolores Roach.

The Horror of Dolores Roach Bobby Cannavale

Credit: Gimlet Media

Mark is currently working on another horror-based audio project for Audible, but hopes that he can revisit Dolores somewhere down the line.

"I'm really fascinated by horror ... I very much hope there's a lot more story to tell about [her]," he said.

When we asked what his favorite empanada filling is, he answered with a laugh. Spoiler alert: His preferred filling is not ground up human flesh.

"I tend to go to the ground beef empanadas, but I was off empanadas for like a year when we did the play. I couldn't do it, but then I caved, and now I eat them regularly again."

All eight episodes of The Horror of Dolores Roach can be listened to on a number of platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and more. Abigail Spencer (Timeless), Richard Kind (A Bug's Life), Margaret Cho (30 Rock), John Douglas Thompson (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), and more are also a part of the cast.