Whose Adaptation Is It, Anyway?
Drukman, Steven, American Theatre
Those who've never tried may think that adapting a classic play is simply like updating grandma's recipe for a 21st-century palate. But it's a lot more than that: Sometimes writers adapt to critique an original text, at other times, to celebrate it, and still other times, to perform a complete overhaul.
Then, throw into the mix the fact that many adaptations are also translations of classic plays in other tongues. One might wonder, then, if translation/adaptations are really (pace Gump) like a box of chocolate: you never know who you're gonna get. This season, audiences around the country will taste a Whitman's sampler of re-mintings of the canonical Continental playwrights, served up in new translation/adaptations by the cream of American dramatists. Here's what each playwright said about his/her particular mind-meld with the master.
RICHARD NELSON on Pirandello's ENRICO IV (at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, Mar 29-Apr 29).
Well, the process of adaptation has given me a far greater respect for Pirandello. He is a lot less cerebral than I thought--too often, he is given that sort of mantle, as if he is always simply working out "What is madness?" or "How do we know the difference between illusion and reality?" But I have discovered that those are just methods for Pirandello to get at deeper questions. In fact, I hope to show that Enrico IV is a character as profoundly human as anything I've come across in Ibsen, or even anything in Chekhov.
CONSTANCE CONGOON on Moliere's THE MISANTHROPE (also at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, Oct 19-Nov 19).
Mine is really not an adaptation as much as it is a "new first version." I worked closely with the best living biographer of Moliere, Virginia Scott, so this Misanthrope is greatly influenced by the French of the period, as well as a thorough knowledge of Moliere. I tried to make it slang free, in standard American English verse. I took Virginia's prose translation--she gave me some different word choices (I really don't speak French)--and then I converted it all into iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets. I know the Richard Wilbur version so well, that I didn't want to make the same choices. His version is probably the best known to American audiences, and it was written 50 years ago! So in mine, Celimene is smarter, more active, less of a cipher--as she was in the original by Moliere.
Also, often adaptors put Misanthrope in a specific world--Hollywood, for example--but the social situation is sui generis. We've all seen relationships like Alceste-Celimene, and the Misanthrope scenario could exist in any arena where there are strictures on behavior and all your moves are known--the corporate world would work, for example. But then, it is shot through with such passion and obsession. Frankly, it could be the world of the theatre!
REGINA TAYLOR on Chekhov's THE SEAGULL (at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, Apr 27-May 27). …
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Publication information: Article title: Whose Adaptation Is It, Anyway?. Contributors: Drukman, Steven - Author. Magazine title: American Theatre. Volume: 17. Issue: 8 Publication date: October 2000. Page number: 56. © 1999 Theatre Communications Group. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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