Friday, January 15, 2016

The Secret Adversary: Adaptation

I am trying to write an essay on adaptation. Perhaps you have heard this apocryphal story, attributed to Michelangelo.

The apprentice asked how the master was able to take a formless marble slab and transform it into something as soul-touchingly beautiful as David.

Michelangelo took a drag on his cigarette and said, "Chip away anything that doesn't look like David."

With The Secret Adversary I have had a second opportunity to tell the story of an entire novel with one set and five actors. Writing the script I tried not to concern myself with the set - at all - but I did need to think about the players, and how many would be able to appear on stage at the same time.

Surprisingly, this book was much more challenging that The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in spite of the fact that I had limited two of my actors (myself and James) to play one character each, James as the narrator Hastings, who barely leaves the stage, and myself as Poirot. One actor played the other three other male characters.

left to right: Ray Caspio as Boris Stepanov, Brittni Shambaugh as Rita Vandermeyer, James Rankin as Mister Carter
Design by Esther Haberlen

But Adversary just has so many characters, it was challenging to narrow it down. Putting the pieces together, I tried not to think very much about how fast the actors would need to change behind the set. In fact, I was so negligent that up until today I still had a scene in which Ray would enter with a gun in Ray's ribs.

The thing about Styles is that if there are too few characters, there are too few suspects. I like to think I struck a decent balance there, and was able to maintain Christie's mystery until the last few moments.

Adversary isn't really a mystery, though there is a major reveal, though for most of the tale it is pretty obvious that if "Mister Brown" exists, he is one, the other (or both?) of two characters. The story is an international thriller, with the protagonists getting into and out of scrapes, flying entirely by their wits.

I had to chip away anything that wasn't a one-hour play, but not too much that it was no longer The Secret Adversary.

Thankfully, we once again have the great joy of working with Esther, who not only has a great love of the period (England "between the wars") but also a tremendous talent at creating fabulous looks actors can slip in and out of with great speed.

British Intelligence, Member of Parliament, ageing socialite, American millionaire, Russian royalty, German Bolshevik, Cockney thug ... and that's maybe half of them.

Rehearsals begin in ten days.

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