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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Moving from page to stage

As someone who loves theater as much as she loves books, scripts rank pretty high on my list of reading material. I'm also fascinated by books that are turned into plays, though few authors are able to do so successfully.

Agatha Christie used to complain about the stage adaptations made of her novels because she thought they stayed too true to the original story and missed out on the theatricality of the medium. So she began adapting her stories--far more successfully than those who came before her. Anyone who has seen her plays and read her books will know that there are often different endings, especially in such plays as Witness for the Prosecution and And Then There Were None (or Ten Little Indians).

But the transition from book to stage is a far more difficult one than, for example, the transition from book to screen.

Howard Mohr is an author who managed to take his book of humor and turn it into a musical. Mohr, a one-time writer for Prairie Home Companion, became a bestselling author by translating his regionalisms for the rest of the world in the popular book, How to Speak Minnesotan. (It's a book, incidently, that was reviewed by a native Minnesotan at Book Help Web.) But he didn't stop there. After winning a regional Emmy for the video version of the book, he turned it into a musical which has enjoyed long runs in Minnesota.

It reminded me a bit of Jeff Daniels' stage version of Escanaba in Da Moonlight (and from what I've heard, the movie version had little merit, which is a real shame considering how very, very good the stage version is). It's a play that plays to sell-out crowds wherever it goes in Michigan. It plays most often at Daniels' own Purple Rose Theater, but it's made the rounds to other state theaters as well. I recently saw it performed in Grand Ledge, Michigan in an old barn that was the perfect setting for a Yooper play. It may not be as funny to people outside the region, but it's hilarious for those of us born and bred here.

However, Mohr's book certainly shows that even books about regionalisms can have a national appeal.


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