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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Additional Reading:

 

Other Posts in the Adaptation Series:

Books I Read in December

Hi Friends, it’s been quiet here the past few weeks, because I was travelling in China for the holidays! I’ll be sharing some photos soon, but all of the time on planes, trains, and boats made for some quality reading time! I read 13 books in December, bringing the final 2015 number of books read to: 74. I’ll be posting soon with some reflections on 2015, but for now, in no particular order, the books I read in December were:

the-age-of-innocenceEdith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence – I read this as part of my quest to read all of the Pulitzer winners. This was my second attempt at reading Edith Wharton, and I found it much more enjoyable than Ethan Frome. Did you know this book was adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese, who said that this was the most violent film he’s ever made? Of course, he’s referring to an emotional-violence instead of physical brutality. I’m currently sick with a cold, so I will be watching this movie under a layer of blankets this weekend. Have you seen it?

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straightjamesJames Franco’s Straight James / Gay James – While I’ve already reviewed this book, I just want to add that it’s stuck with me a little more than I expected it to. I have never taken James Franco very seriously as a writer, but I think there is something very brave about putting your poetry out there, especially for people who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves a poet. While I’d still rather see him in a movie than on paper, I will have to think twice before rolling my eyes at his next publication.

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missoula

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – this book was a well-written and provocative look into such a grim and violent subject – acquaintance rape, date rape, whatever you want to call it. Jon Krakauer follows the personal stories of a few rape cases that occurred within a few weeks of each other in Missoula, Montana. I think the most terrifying thing is that Missoula is not an anomaly, and these stories are happening much more frequently than we’d like to think. This should be required reading on every college campus.

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fox 8.jpgGeorge Saunders’ Fox 8 – This novella is exclusively available as an eBook (it’s only 99 cents! Go buy it!) and I borrowed it from the New York Public Library. In true Saunders’ form, this story is hilarious, violent, and depressing all at once. The story is told by a Fox who learns how to Yuman – “So came bak nite upon nite, seeted upon that window, trying to lern. And in time, so many werds came threw my ears and into my brane, that, if I thought upon them, cud understand Yuman pretty gud, if I heer it!”

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gap of timeJeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time – I don’t think my admittedly rushed-before-going-to-China review did this book justice, so I might revisit and rework my post later this year. This is Winterson’s “cover” of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, of which Winterson says, “All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years.”  For some reason, this book reminded me of Station Eleven, maybe because of the post-crisis emphasis on Shakespeare?

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alice adamsBooth Tarkington’s Alice Adams – This was the 1922 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, notably Tarkington’s second Pulitzer (and in a span of four years!) I found it much more enjoyable than his previous winner, The Magnificent Ambersons. I’m not sure if I would have awarded this book any sort of award, but then again, maybe there were slimmer pickings in the 1920s, what do you think? This was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn in the 1930s, so we know the book was popular for quite a while! I’ll have to add this to the list of movie adaptations to watch (and write about!)

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one of oursWilla Cather’s One of Ours – This was the 1923 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. I was really on a Pulitzer roll this month! It is a sprawling epic story that follows Claude Wheeler from a child in Nebraska to a soldier in France during World War II. Claude is a shy dreamer with big ideas about what he wants from life and love. I found him sweetly relatable. I’ve read online that this was one of Willa Cather’s weaker works, but as I’ve never read anything else of hers, I can’t make that call (yet). I’ll be writing more about this later, and would definitely consider reading more by Willa.

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rashomon

Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon – I picked this book up at the Strand’s Central Park location on  a whim, because I’ve seen Akira Kurasawa’s 1950 film Rashomon. This book is a collection of 6 short stories, between 8 – 15 pages long each. I really loved the writing style (but can never tell how much is attributable to the translator versus the writer) and the stories were all incredibly human, magical, and touching. Fun fact: the film was actually based on a combination of two of the short stories in this collection: In a Grove and Rashomon.

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the winter's taleWilliam Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

My favorite passage:

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?–a note infallible
Of breaking honesty–horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?

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the reason i jumpNaoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump – This book is incredible – it was written by a thirteen year old Japanese autistic boy who often has trouble with verbal communication. I first heard about the book when I saw Jon Stewart interview Naoki on The Daily Show a few years ago. When I was in high school, I volunteered as an art teacher to autistic students, but I must admit that I still had no idea about their capacity for emotional depth and understanding. Reading this book really challenged a lot of my biases and made me feel ashamed (in the best possible positive way.)

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we should all be feministsChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists – This book is based on a Ted talk that Chimamanda gave (online here), which you will most likely recognize from Beyonce’s Flawless. While I didn’t need convincing from Chimamanda to be a feminist, it is always refreshing to hear the arguments from such an articulate and compassionate person. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying the book, you should definitely watch the video if you haven’t yet.

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teen spiritFrancesca Lia Block’s Teen Spirit – I do not think I’ll ever be too old to read Francesca Lia Block. This book is perfect to read around Halloween! Spoiler Alert – this is the story of a girl who is trying to communicate with her dead grandmother and a boy who is possibly possessed by his angry dead twin. Although the ending is a little cliched, I don’t think anyone reads Block for the plot, but more for her rich language and imagery, the smell of the flowers leap off the page.

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the chronology of water.jpgLidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water – I read this book because Cheryl Strayed said it was her favorite book. This memoir is not for the faint-hearted. Lidia Yuknavitch has lived so many lives and tackles everything head-on, from losing a child to being molested by her father, struggling to write to S&M parties and her fascination with being whipped. Her writing style is self-described as “weird” and it’s no wonder that Chuck Palahniuk introduced her to his writing group. This book pushed me out of my comfort zone and was an emotional and gripping read from start to finish.

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I can’t believe that concludes 2015! Of these books, I would most highly recommend Fox 8 and Missoula. What did you read in December? What’s on your list for 2016? How many books did you read in 2015, and does that number even matter or mean anything to you? I’m a believer in quality over quantity, but it’s definitely satisfying to tackle a long to-read list.

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!)

Additional Resources:

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.

Kafka 3

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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