Adaptation: The Crucible

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is currently in previews on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theater and opens March 31 – next Thursday! I was lucky enough to snag discounted tickets last week and eagerly met a friend there Saturday night.

If you haven’t read this play before, here’s a quick summary: it’s 1692 Salem, and you know what that means – the Salem Witch Trials. A group of teen girls led by Abigail Williams claim to have been enchanted by Tituba, Abigail’s uncle’s slave from Barbados. Quickly the girls gain power in the town as they claim to be able to see spirits and witchcraft. They begin naming witches and things quickly spiral out of control. Written in 1953, this is often seen as an allegory warning against McCarthyism.

Did you read the play or watch it first? I haven’t read The Crucible since high school American literature class about a decade ago, but I remembered the plot and a few of the most pivotal scenes.

How were the play and Broadway adaptation the same? While I am always hesitant to see movie or play adaptations of a favorite book, I think a play is a little different, because although the costumes, casting, & set design are open to interpretation, the script never changes. Your favorite lines will (usually) never be cut, and your favorite characters will never unexpectedly die.

How were the play and Broadway adaptation different?  This Broadway adaptation completely blew me away. There’s a star studded and phenomenal cast: Saoirse Ronan as Abigail Williams, Ben Whishaw as John Proctor, and Tavi Gevinson as Mary Warren. The stage was pretty sparse, and it’s set up like an old fashioned class room with a big chalkboard along the back of the stage. There are moments of pure magic – a little Betty Parris flying in the house, Mary Warren writing “I cannot, I cannot” across the entire chalkboard – that are both open for interpretation and add a bit of whimsy to the play. The other thing that I found completely refreshing was the colorblind casting of the play. Diversity is such an important and sensitive topic these days, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty diverse cast. I expected an all-white cast but for Tituba, the Barbadian slave (like the otherwise great 1996 movie adaptation). Instead, there was an African American judge, neighbor, wife, etc.

I also wanted to tell you that the orchestra was composed by Philip Glass, and it is absolutely haunting and the perfect backdrop for such a dark play. If this soundtrack becomes available online somewhere soon, I will definitely be listening to it on repeat while I am working.

Parting Thoughts:  If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City or if you’ll be visiting in the near future, I would highly recommend this play. I have loaded the play onto my Kindle and plan on revisiting it soon.

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The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

gap of time

Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite contemporary writers, so when I saw that she was writing a “cover” version of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, I dropped everything to get my hands on a copy. Gap of Time is Winterson’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s play. Gap of Time is named after the ending stanza of The Winter’s Tale:

Lead us from hence, where we may leisurely
Each one demand an answer to his part
Perform’d in this wide gap of time since first
We were dissever’d: hastily lead away.

Although I’ve never read the play, this book stands on its own. It’s a book about jealousy, madness, and repentance. Winterson cheekily sets this book in the future; it’s a post-financial-crisis world, where New York is a place called New Bohemia. Leo’s wife Mimi is pregnant, and Leo becomes obsessed with the idea that Mimi is cheating on him with his best friend, Xeno. In true Shakespearean style, chaos ensues. And in true Wintersonian style, there’s a mix of prose, dialogue, and something like poetry. She throws in quotes from Shakespeare and even inserts herself into the book (briefly, in passing.) Although it took me a few chapters to get oriented, once I did, it was such a lyrical and emotional read. I found myself underlining, highlighting, and rereading every page.

Winterson has rewritten so many stories, and this one is just as wonderful as the others. If you’ve never read anything by Jeanette before, here’s a sample of her writing style:

So many stories of lost and found.

As though the whole of history is a vast Lost-Property Department.

Perhaps it began when the moon splintered off from the earth, pale, lonely, watchful, present, unsocial, inspired. Earth’s autistic twin.

And all the stories of twins begin. Paris who can’t be separated but can’t be together. Of shut-outs and lock-outs, and feuds and broken hearts and lovers who think they are immortal until one of them dies.

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I would recommend this book to fans of adaptations, people who enjoy a British sense of humor, and enjoy lyrical prose (I recognize that Jeanette may not be everyone’s cup of tea!)

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Adaptation: Room

Adaptation is a series that examines the film adaptations of some of the books I’ve read (and vice versa). **Warning – there may be spoilers if you have yet to read the book or watch the movie!**

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A Quick Summary: Jack has lived in Room his whole life, but when he turns 5, he learns that an entire world exists outside of Room.

Did you read the book or watch the movie first? I read Emma Donoghue’s Room last September and wrote about it here At the time, I didn’t realize it would be a movie coming out this year as well. I finally made time to go see it at the Angelika this week.

egg snakeHow were the book and movie different? I think the movie was able to truly capture how claustrophobic and small Room was in a way that the book was not. I thought that Brie Larson was phenomenal. She exuded a quiet combination of strength and emotional turmoil, and I found her much more likable than the Ma in the book.

How were the book and movie the same? I think one of the best parts of having Emma Donoghue write both the book and the screenplay is that the themes and tone of the book did not get lost during the adaptation. I was worried that the movie would sexualize Ma or play up the gruesome aspects of the book, but we truly get a movie about the bond between mother and child in spite of terrible circumstances.

room

Parting Thoughts: I think that Emma Donoghue was a little too sentimental to her own writing. There were long voiceovers in the movie of Jack reading (what seemed like pages) from the book. I thought it worked well at first to help set the scene, but I found it more distracting than anything else later on. Overall, I was pleased to find the same strong female protagonist and I was amazed by Jacob Tremblay’s portrayal of Jack (the actor is only 9!) However, since this wasn’t one of my favorite-books-of-all-time, I would probably recommend either reading or watching it, but wouldn’t encourage doing both.

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Adaptation: Kafka on the Shore

The Ninagawa Company recently came to Lincoln Center to perform their adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. As soon as I saw posters start to go up, I was intrigued and knew I had to see it. How could you possibly turn such a dense and surreal book into a three hour play? The answer is – interpret, edit, adapt.

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Kafka + Crow

Even the description of the play on the official website suggests it will have a much more straightforward plot than the book.

In a tale of two parallel journeys, 15-year-old Kafka and an imaginary friend run away from home in search of his estranged mother and sister and to escape an Oedipal curse. His journey runs side by side that of a fellow searcher—an old man with uncanny abilities seeking a magical stone he believes will offer divine guidance. As their odysseys entwine in modern-day Japan, reality, dream, and myth converge in an allegorical tale that resonates viscerally but resists logical explanation.

There may have been something lost in translation, however, because the play doesn’t even mention an Oedipal curse. Also, I would never have called Crow an “imaginary friend” – would you have? The play was entirely in Japanese, and we had to read subtitles off a banner on top of the stage. I’ve done this before for operas, but never for a play. After the first five minutes of adjusting, I hardly noticed and felt entirely absorbed in the play.

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Johnnie Walker in his basement

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Adaptation: Wild

Adaptation is going to be a series that examines the film (and maybe some play) adaptations of some of our favorite (and not-so-favorite) books. **Warning – there will be spoilers if you have yet to read the book or watch the movie!**

When you really love a book, sometimes you are almost loath to see it turn into a movie. Is the director going to have the same vision for the characters? Once you see a movie’s aesthetics, it can irreparably replace your memory and imagination. This is something I think about often, and there are many trailers that I’ll refuse to watch until I’ve read the book first.

At the other end of the spectrum, some movies end up with beautiful images that would have never been possible in a book, or a director may interpret a book in a way that would have never occurred to me. I thought for our first in this little series, I would start with an example of a great adaptation – a movie I loved as much as the book. Without further adieu, I present to you – Wild.

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A Quick Summary: A 26 year old Cheryl Strayed’s life is spiraling out of control in the aftermath of her mother’s death. She leaves everything behind to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in hopes of finding herself again.

Top to Bottom: Reese Witherspoon and Cheryl Strayed

Did you read the book or watch the movie first? I watched the movie first. I knew I wanted to watch the movie as soon as I saw that the movie was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee of Dallas Buyers Club fame. I will admit, I heard about the book back in 2012 when it was selected for the Oprah 2.0 book club, but I generally tend to ignore books that Oprah recommends (no offense, Oprah).

How were the book and movie different? The book definitely shed more light and background on Cheryl Strayed’s past. She actually has a stepfather who loved her, but drifted away after the death of her mother, who doesn’t make an appearance in the movie. Cheryl also has the time and space to tell us more about the logistics – how she planned and paid for things, how she dealt with her period every month, etc. But the Pacific Crest Trail is an absolutely breathtaking sight, and the movie is able to make a 1,100 mile hike visually captivating in a way the book is not.

How were the book and movie the same? I think this is because Cheryl Strayed helped write the script, but the movie retains the lyricism of Strayed’s memoir. We see her handwriting and quotes appear (in a very non-cheesy way) throughout the movie, and Reese Witherspoon has voice-overs reading passages from her journals and book. My favorite quotes from the movie are unsurprisingly also my favorite quotes from the book.

Parting Thoughts: I loved the book and movie in different ways. I felt more connected to and related more to Strayed in her book than in the movie, but I loved the scene in the movie where she sees the fox and is convinced it is her mother. This scene is also in the book, but it wasn’t as visceral to read. I think that these are perfect companion pieces for one another. The film isn’t true to the book in the way that the book is a memoir and not 100% true to the facts of a life.

Have you seen and read Wild? Which did you prefer? What are some of your favorite book to film adaptations?