I got an email from a playwright friend yesterday, which I responded to this morning. I had to think about what she’d written before I could write back anything of substance. She is adapting some myths into a play. She’s done adaptations before, as have I. But this adaptation is different for her.
I know how she feels. I tried to think of one adaptation I’d done where it was the same process as another I’d done, and I couldn’t think of any. It’s always different. It always has to do with the nature of the material, plus the original author’s intent, and where it intersects my intent.
So it’s in that context, I can truthfully say I don’t have a clue what adaptation is. Has Sarah Ruhl, the critics’ darling of the moment, written an adaptation of Eurydice? I bet she’d say no. Has Steve Sater written an adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening? Probably, but it isn’t a slavish adaptation, however true it is to Wedekind’s intent. Even though I knew even before I read an interview with Sater there are scenes in the musical that aren’t in the play. The father-son scene makes complete sense, it’s emotionally satisfying, it isn’t jarring in the least. However, I know enough about the original play, and European drama and societal attitudes of a century ago, to know that Wedekind never would have written that scene. In his authorial context, in his world, it wouldn’t have made sense. But in Sater’s and our world, it makes perfect sense. I think that is what makes that libretto particularly admirable. If he did a word-for-word adaptation from the German, or from Eric Bentley’s translation, that’s all well and good, I guess. But to get into the world of a play and figure what is going to resonate emotionally with a contemporary audience, while not violating what Wedekind was trying to say- to me, that’s the whole point.
Never fear, there will be more Dramahound on adaptation. I’ve spent years of my life trying to figure it out.