Adaptation

I was taught that Jon Jory was a god in the world of playwriting.  But I saw a lousy production of his adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in Florida.  And the actors and director cannot take all the blame. 

Jory’s adaptation was way too literal – this happened, then this happened, then this happened.  The theatricality was mostly absent, except for borrowing the technique used in “Nicholas Nickleby” where prose is put in the mouths of characters and shared with the audience breaking the fourth wall. 

Now, I admit I’m a bit prejudiced myself on the topic of Jane Austen and “P&P.”  I’ve seen the 1995 BBC adaptation at least two dozen times and the various movie versions several times apiece.  But those were films.  This was theatre – or at least it was supposed to be.

I’m no expert on adaptation – though I did win the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for my adaptation of Nikolai Gogol short stories for the Rogues Artists Ensemble – but I do have some thoughts.  And I hope you’ll add to my list of what makes a good adaptation.

A work of theatre has to be theatrical.  There has to be a place where the page is left to lie there to gather dust and something bigger than life comes alive in front of an audience.  I don’t need Spiderman to fly across the stage (speaking of problems with adaptation) or a helicopter to land at the end of the second act.  A play should be dangerous.  And unpredictable.  Use the stage.

Someone will be disappointed.  It happens all the time in movie adaptations – something gets left out, characters get melded.  A playwright has to face those expectations an audience brings into a familiar work and be brave enough to disappoint some people.  Trying to please everyone creates bland work.

Jane Austen will not turn over in her grave.  We all want to honor the original work.  But why bother to do anything but retype the book in play format if you’re not willing to make it a bit of your own?  It’s an adaptation, not a literal translation.

That’s enough for now.  What’s on your list?

1 Comment

  • By Nancy Beverly, April 7, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

    I worked at Actors Theatre of Louisville for four years, when Jon was there. He’s an excellent director and not a good writer… That said, I’ve never done an adaptation because I’m always so disappointed by those I’ve seen. Fish swim, birds fly, why do we insist they have to adapt to the other’s realm? (Oh, to make a buck? Oh, yeah…)

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