Talking ’bout an Adaptation…

(to be sung to the tune of The Who’s Talkin’ bout my Generation, if that wasn’t obvious)

So now that Ari has once again found his voice, it’s a challenge to keep up. In an attempt, I’ll fill you in on my weekend trip up to NY–mostly to see family but also for a theater fix…

My weekend started off with a healthy dose of culture when I headed down to Tribecca (walking past the building where I spent my final three weeks in NY in the summer of 2001 fulfilling a stint of jury duty) to Walker Street between Broadway and Church to see TOO MUCH MEMORY, Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson’s adaptation of Anouilh’s ANTIGONE.

It was part of The New York International Fringe Festival, and while it was fringe-y because the building had little to no air conditioning and the set was produced with maybe $200, it was not fringe-y in that most of the actors had Broadway credits to their name. 

Anyway, the show got me thinking about adaptations and the many questions that surround them–thoughts we’d been tossing around already as Ari and John start to share drafts of The Seagull on 16th Street, Ari’s adaptation of The Seagull.

One of the big questions we keep hitting our head up against is “Why?” In other words, Why now? Why adapt? Why do this classic play again, now with this new angle/lens/perspective that setting it at Theater J on 16th Street brings to it?

In this ANTIGONE the why was the same why that has motivated many versions of ANTIGONE: a myopic world leader is making decisions that seem driven more by a need for power and control than for peace and stability. Think Hitler in WWII (Anouilh’s more even-handed version, and Brecht’s uncompomising one), LBJ and the administration keeping us in Vietnam (Judith Malina’s uber-political, uber-late 60s version), and NOW–a president and cabinet that lead us into a war under false pretenses and lies. And so we see cell phones and text messages. The guard talks about how he always voted democrat, but can have a good existence now as a “lifer” in the service. We see the suggestion of torture and interrogation techniques, something akin to (if not quite) water-boarding. Much of it works, some of it doesn’t.

The stand out moment for me was when the writers took advantage of this particular “why” and stepped away from the original source material to write a moment that they, presumably, always wanted to see—Eurydice speaks! In the original she remains silent. Poking around the internet a bit I found this description of her “role” as Creon’s wife on a student cliff’s notes sort of website:

Creon’s wife is a calm and kind queen. She does not speak at all, and the Chorus comments on her quiet but firm nature in the end. She is knitting for the poor of Thebes when she is informed of her son’s death. She rises calmly and deliberately, goes up to her bedroom, and kills herself. Her act of suicide is a silent protest against her husband’s cruel ways. She is a good and loving woman, but she is no help to her husband.

In this version she does not remain calm and silent. And it is really quite a brilliant moment.

So that’s a reason to write an adaptation! To write the moments, the speeches, the responses that we’ve always longed to hear.

But the Seagull. The Seagull! Ours certainly will not be the first adaptation of Chekhov’s dark comedy. A quick search turns up productions set in:

  • 21st-century rural France
  • rural Ireland at the turn of the last century
  • an East Village populated by beatnik intellectuals
  • A German ballet interpretation
  • 1959 Greenwich Village and Hollywood

And that last one? It’s a musical. (Wait ’til you see THE RISE AND FALL OF ANNIE HALL…)

I believe Ari has an even more extensive list. But come on people—where is the punk Seagull? The Seagull cast with robots? Actually, I bet both have already been done.

So again, why nowwhy this Seagull? It will be exciting to continue to explore and expand upon those questions.

More on writing and staging adaptations of classic and well-known works to come–surely from Ari and perhaps from our dear Alexander Strain, who is currently hard at work directing an adaptation himself—an update of Aristophanes’ PEACE.