The Adaptor's Task: Interrogation, Not Conversation


by Kenneth Molloy · July 30, 2014


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I wrote Empty House-- the play my team and I are bringing to FringeNYC this summer-- as a graduate thesis in dramaturgy, and it’s my hope that the show reflects a long, scrupulous study of the craft of adapting classic stories to the modern stage.  As a writer and theater practitioner, I’ve always gravitated to conversation with tradition over the scramble for novelty-- my first FringeNYC venture was 2010’s Ghost of Dracula, a riff on Stoker’s character and his legacy; more recently, I scripted Hansel and Gretel for the American Repertory Theater and grappled with Plautus and Terence at the NEH Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance.  Over time, my approach towards the adaptation of classic work has drifted a bit from the orthodoxy, as I’ve come to the view adaptor’s foremost task to be not conversation with the source, but interrogation thereof.  The more treasured and sacrosanct the material, the deeper and more aggressive the artist’s scrutiny must be.

Empty House strips away the ultimate sine qua non of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon: Holmes himself. In the detective’s place, we’ve constructed a socio-historically realistic perspective on his world, bringing into focus the late-Victorian imperial malaise, the ravages of colonialism and industrialization, and, above all, the gender politics that Doyle relegated to the background. Our belief is that, through the deconstruction of Sherlock Holmes, we can expose and examine the spirit of the time and place that produced the character, the spirit that lives in him to this day.

 

 

 

 

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