Author, Author! Don DeLillo Steps out of the Wings
Kidd, James, The Independent (London, England)
The phrase "a play by Don DeLillo" doesn't trip off the tongue quite like "a play by William Shakespeare" or, even, "a novel by Don DeLillo". "I think of myself as a novelist first, always," DeLillo said in 2006. "I think a writer's greatness may well be defined by his lack of adaptability to other forms."
This latter statement has been sorely tested of late. David Cronenberg's adaptation of DeLillo's 2003 novel, Cosmopolis, was released last month. And today, a play by DeLillo called The Word for Snow has its European premiere at the Southbank's Centre's London Literature Festival.
The production, directed by Jack McNamara, combines DeLillo's words with music by Giuseppe Lomeo and video by Teppei Nogaki. "The Word for Snow is not conventional," McNamara tells me. "It isn't divided into scenes or acts. There's no naturalistic behaviour. It's an abstract encounter, a meditative fragment, a bit like Samuel Beckett's short works."
The play is a brave move on DeLillo's part. Great American novelists have a long tradition of crashing and burning on the stage. Henry James's Guy Domville ended with its author being booed at the curtain call. Since then, everyone from F Scott Fitzgerald and Saul Bellow to John Updike and Cormac McCarthy has attempted theatre, with little success.
DeLillo's reputation is more elevated. He has had a lengthy association with the respected Steppenwolf Theatre Company. After John Malkovich adapted DeLillo's novel Libra, in 1994, Steppenwolf premiered two more of his theatrical works: 2006's Love-Lies- Bleeding and The Word for Snow a year later.
The New York Times critic Bruce Weber was not so convinced. He praised a "revelatory" off-Broadway production of DeLillo's Valparaiso in 2002, calling the writing "indisputably electric" but the play remained a "dire, intellectual comedy": DeLillo's "language is too carefully moulded, too loaded, too calculatedly oblique to serve characters in conversation". …