With the permission of the Dramatists Guild, I am re-publishing my regional reports here on my blog after they’ve been published in print and released to members. My thinking is that (in some cases, at least) the columns I write will interest other theater practitioners and non-Guild members as well.
This being the translation/adaptation issue of The Dramatist, I thought it might be interesting to write a bit of a précis about a recent adaptation produced in DC. Before I do, however, I need to preface the précis with a disclaimer: I was involved in the project I’m about to describe. My hope is that learning about what I hope you’ll agree is a fascinating performance will make up for the sin of own-horn-tooting. If not… please forgive me.
The project in question was the development and production of A Killing Game, an adaption (very loosely speaking) of Eugene Ionesco’s Jeu de Massacre. Devised and performed by dog & pony dc, an ensemble whose mission and aesthetic are centered on innovative audience engagement, the performance was more like game night with 50 or so strangers than a traditional production. The show is composed of two elaborate musical medleys, a full-on mock game show, a series of absurd comedy sketches, a recording accompanied by a timed series of tweets, a long-form improv game, a sing-along, and one deadly serious (pun intended) thoroughly realistic scene. Each “round” of the game is accompanied by an action card, a deck of which is tucked into every audience member’s program. There’s lots and lots and lots of dying and coming back to life and then dying once again… both for the performers AND for the audience.
In re-imagining Ionesco’s work, the ensemble drew on an almost impossibly diverse range of source material, infusing bits of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast, the card game Fluxx, the board game Clue, and the game show The Price Is Right into the resulting transmedia experience. (A Killing Game engaged its audience via live performance, Twitter, and radio play.) Given all those influences and storytelling methods, it may be surprising to learn that A Killing Game retains the spirit of Jeu de Massacre… which was, of course, also translated (from French into English) before the work of adaptation could begin.
But… was it really an adaptation? Most adaptations begin, after all, not with plays, but with novels or fables or comic books or fairy tales or even collections of poetry. A Killing Game started with a relatively straightforward absurdly comedic play and became a participatory mash-up that (as you have likely determined already) is a bit difficult to describe. Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to discuss the transformations than can be made from one theatrical mode to another.
Of course, if your tastes run to more traditional fare, you have options. A Killing Game isn’t the only adaption in the current DC theater season, which includes a musical version of the film Big; adaptations of the children’s books Big Nate, James and the Giant Peach, and Cat in the Hat; Mary Zimmerman’s spectacular Metamorphoses; new adaptations of Zorro and Gilgamesh; a commedia version of Romeo and Juliet; Dickens’ Christmas Carol (of course); a one-man version of It’s a Wonderful Life; and Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner’s riff on The Seagull, among several others. Adaptation, it seems, continues to be a vital (and increasingly expansive) mode in DC. And who knows where DC’s theater makers are going to take it next?