Wednesday, November 19, 2014

800 Words: Delusions of Grandeur - My Unrealized Projects - Part 2 - Theater

The Ten Commandments - The movie that's on every Passover, watching it is a rite of passage for every Jewish kid to sit through. It would make a great subject, albeit getting the rights would be torture. It is operatic at every pour, and has the perfect combination of high drama and soap opera for an opera. It also has, as many operas do, an obsessive interest in freedom and individualism which can make, if the composer is good enough, for a lot of very stirring music.

Watchmen - I'm sure you've heard of the graphic novel. I think it would make an amazing opera. 'Nuff said.

The Portage of San Cristobal A.H. - It's a novella about Nazi hunters who stumble on Hitler in his 90's in the Argentinian jungle and put him on trial only for Hitler to mount a brilliant defense of himself. It would be, I think, a fantastic project, albeit one that disturbs the hell out of me.

A Tale of Two Liars - I've had this idea since College. It's based on an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story about two con artists, a man and a woman, who come into a shtetl and become the rage of the town. The devil decides to get involved and make them fall in love with each other. With predictable mayhem ensuing. It would be a black musical comedy, but it would be set in Yiddish.


Deli Strummer: Deli Strummer was a Holocaust survivor from Vienna who spoke all around Baltimore for years when I was a kid. She was amazingly charismatic, spoke fantastic English, and could reduce even the most jaded children to tears. It then turned out that she falsified the account of her survival.

The Rules of Our Game - Based on Renoir's 1939 movie - The Rules of the Game. In this version, a group of spoiled Ivy League Seniors, perhaps from Princeton, go for a weekend on the beach, perhaps Cape May, with the intention of hitting the Jersey Shore bars. There would be equivalents to each character, I can explain those in detail. It would be, in many ways, a portrait of the income disparities in our generation and how that warps us all. At the end, the weekend goes terribly awry, ending with the death of one of the Princeton students, and everybody's parents agreeing to smooth over the details of what happened.

DC Story - Based on Tokyo Story, the Ozu film from 1952. A very simple story. Two old and ailing parents from Baltimore keep trying to visit their children in DC, but their children don’t have time for them and view them as pests. Then one of the parents dies, and the children realize that they never made the effort.

Fanny and Alexander - Based on Ingmar Bergman's 1983 movie, but with a much more political edge. A rich Jewish family in 1960's Baltimore, loving and cultured, with three middle aged brothers who run various parts of a business together. Their mother is a widow, who has a romantic relationship with her husband’s black business partner. But after the oldest brother dies, the his wife remarries to a right wing religious clergyman who basically abducts the children. The marriage of the youngest brother is torn apart by affairs with young hippies. The middle brother is also a college professor, and his job is victim to radical divides he doesn’t understand.
The American Presidency - Shakespeare wrote histories about kings. Why hasn’t some American playwright taken it on himself to write something similar to chronicle American presidents? Given how the modern mind works, it would probably only be effective if the presidents were in living memory - perhaps Roosevelt onward. But given the drama that accompanies American history, the plays would almost write themselves.

Graz 1907: This would take a little more detail to explain, just because it's so obscure. Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler hike up a mountain on the day that Strauss's opera, Salome is being premiered. Present at that premiere, among others, will be the two of them, most of the kings of Europe, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berg, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Adolf Hitler, and Adrian Leverkuhn (the main character of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus). Mahler, an extremely anxious and moody Jew, worries that he's being run out of his position as director of the Vienna Opera, and fears that what's happening to him is happening all over Europe, and something terrible may soon happen. Richard Strauss, a level-headed Bavarian obsessed with money who will one day would become a Nazi collaborator, assures Mahler that he has nothing to worry about and his carrying on is, as always, ridiculous. In the second act, Mahler goes to the men's room a half-hour before the opera begins. Mahler is stopped before he leaves by a young man named Adolf from Upper Austria, who says that Mahler made him accepting of the fact that he's part-Jewish, and talks about how he wishes he could be a conductor and emulate Mahler's conducting style, and how the sets of his art director, Alfred Roller, could be the basis for rebuilding an entire nation. He then tries to touch Mahler's hair the way Salome does, then tries to kiss Mahler. Mahler runs out horrified, and Adolf Hitler may have been born in that moment. Act III would be a party gathering of all the various celebrities and the various hijinks that ensue. I can explain it if you need me to.


Richard III: Richard is usually portrayed as a kind of Hannibal Lector - a loveable psychopath who gleefully commits crimes. But the more I delve into Richard III, the more I wonder if the text supports that interpretation. The Dream scene, particularly makes no sense in that interpretation. Perhaps Richard is truly tortured, a depressed and malformed man made by circumstances into a reluctant lunatic - not unlike Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. When he says about Clarence “I do love you so that I shall send you to heaven.” Perhaps he really means it. When he goes after Princess Anne over the body of Prince Edward and says her beauty made him do it, perhaps that’s really why he did it.

Romeo and Juliet: I always thought R&J could be played as 80 year olds, but apparently that was done a few years ago in England. Instead, what if Romeo and Juliet are both obese? All the stuff about Rosaline is in fact merciless taunts by Mercutio, who is simply a bully, and sees Romeo pining after a girl clearly far out of his league. The Nurse could be a gorgeous but poor older contemporary of Juliet, and the fan scene could be something which makes the Nurse look fat. Paris could be a money grubber who clearly has no interest in Juliet.

Wiki Midsummer Night’s Dream - I will never have the organizational ability to bring this off, but I think it’s a great idea for someone who could. Each of the four worlds could be done by a different artist, a different director, and a different cast. Perhaps each scene even could… The fairy world could be done as animation or as a series of paintings with voiceovers, perhaps the rude mechanicals could be done as a really bad student film. I suppose it would also be possible to do The Tempest like this, but I think it would work better with Midsummer.

Julia Caesar - We’re on the cusp of the first female President at the exact same era that we’re the American Presidency has powers verging on dictatorship. There would never be a better time to do a Julius Caesar about feminism. Julius Caesar would be a woman, so would Antony and Octavian, and the conspirators would all be men. It would play into all of men’s fears about losing their privileged position and becoming obsolete, it would play into . The murder could (should?) even be done as a sexual assault that Brutus stops right before Caesar says ‘Et tu Brute?’. It could contrast the masculinities of Brutus, a traditional male who upholds real masculinity, with Cassius, a traditional male who pretends to. Antony’s last line over Brutus ‘this was a man’, would have a completely different meaning.

The Henriad in a Single Night: Orson Welles cut it down to make a play in which Falstaff would be the main character, I don’t see why it couldn’t be done again, though perhaps with the focus on the story itself rather than on Falstaff. Though making Falstaff the main character would be fun too.

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