Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Revival, Adaptation, and Creation

My friend Jack sent me a link to this article from the New York Times.  It treats, among other things, the preference (diverted to London, but certainly true in Chicago and probably everywhere) of adapting "classic" plays for modern audiences; of exploring and exploiting the fresh relevance of work from another time.  This practice is really a lot more complicated than it looks.

First, it begins with one of two foregone conclusions, either a) We're doing The Cherry Orchard, or b) It is good to do The Cherry Orchard.  It proceeds to a question, how will we sell tickets to The Cherry Orchard?  And it results in something like a modernization or an objectification of The Cherry Orchard (for instance).  

The problem, in light of the conversation of the last two Cliché Watches, is that those two foregone conclusions are troublesome right from the start.  Why exactly do we need to do The Cherry Orchard? True, it's a great play, and "an important play" (a Theater History Play), and it has a famous author.  What else?  

A problem with all the adapting that's going on is that it restricts the "need" for new plays. Plays from the past are abstracted to their themes and then reassembled to be about very specific contemporary situations.  If this continues, it will be easier to keep new work that is actually about contemporary situations off grand stages and we will continue to accumulate a solid and impenetrable bezoar of old work and a disparate fog of one-off new shows.

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