Radically Different Interpretations of Identical Scripts

I saw the movie version of “Glengarry Glen Ross” before I’d ever seen anything else written by David Mamet. And, like a lot of SDMB regulars, not only did I love it, I can recite entire scenes from memory.

But while there were several hilarious lines, several uproariously funny moments, the movie was really a very grim drama. The dialogue was extremely naturalistic. When Dave Moss (Ed Harris) engages George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) in a lengthy conversation about robbing the office, it feels like a very real conversation, albeit with a few comic interludes.

Since I loved the movie, I went to see the revival on Broadway when I was in New York last summer. It had an all-star cast, and it was superbly done… but it bore NO resemblance to the movie (not just because the brilliant Alec Baldwin sequence wasn’t part of the play).

The dialogue in the play was exactly the same as in the movie, but the actors’ approach to the material couldn’t have been more different. They played “Glengarry Glen Ross” as a flat out comedy. And it worked brilliantly! Gordon Clapp and Jeffrey Tambor played the parts of Moss and Aaronow in the play, and I swear, Clapp was channeling Bud Abbott! I mean, they played the scene like an Abbott & Costello routine! It was brilliantly done, but I never would have imagined anyone staging the scene that way.

Alan Alda played Shelley Levine like a Neil Simon character- and again, it worked. Jack Lemmon made Shelley a sad, tragic figure from the beginning. While Alda’s Levine was a pitiable figure at the end of the play, he was a hilariously whiney character, a hysterically funny schmendrick for most of the play. As with Tambor and Clapp, Alda’s scenes with the office manager paly like classic vaudeville routines.

I emphasize again, the dialogue was almost EXACTLY the same in the movie and the play’s revival. All that changed was the approach of the actors. Depending on how actors choose to play “Glengarry,” it can be a devastatingly tragic story with some hilarious moments, or it can be a hilarious farce with a tragic ending.

So, how about you? What are the most different interpretations you’ve ever seen of the same material?

I saw a horrific version of “The Merchant of Venice” at the Goodman Theater in Chicago a few years back. Hor-rif-ic.

They hadn’t changed a single word of the script, as far as I could tell. But they repeated lines. They repeated lines. They repeated lines. They repeated lines, over, and over and over. THEY REPEATED LINES AND THEN SHOUTED THEM ANGRILY, OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

Three and a half hours into it, we left. At intermission. That’s right, there were at least three more hours of this monstrosity left.

Now, “The Merchant of Venice” isn’t a rollicking comedy good for the whole family. But there *are *funny bits. It’s actually one of my favorite shows. Not this production. I was actually lost and confused. Hor-rif-ic. Did I mention the video screens playing nature scenes placed randomly all over the stage? That would periodically start shouting random lines for no apparent reason?

The worst part of it, for me, was reading the reviews. Damn critics loved the piece of dreck. It all seemed like this horrible Emperor’s New Clothes nightmare, where no one wanted to admit the little Darling Director was a hack.

Compare it to Al Pacino’s recent movie of the same play, and it’s like night and day. Pacino is dark, dark dark in the role, but this production maintains the humor, where appropriate, and just basically makes sense.

Well, all that additional dialog was written by Sam Taylor and he wanted to be sure he’d earned his salary.

Shakespeare- any Shakespeare.
Whether they make cuts to script, “re-interpret” it in modern language, do it as authentically as possible (men in drag for the female roles and all), add music or try to make it “resonate with the audience of today”, you’ll never see two identical productions of the same Shakespeare play.

When it works, it can be wonderful, when it doesn’t…well **WhyNot ** said what can happen.

Shakespeare is right. I’ve been in two Shakespeare productions- the first, a fairly standard Macbeth, spiced up with some beautifully choreographed akido-style fight scenes. The second…

Well, it was a production of Othello.
Modern dress.
With the setting of contemporary Cyprus.
Hosting a football match.
And Othello was the manager of the Venetian football team. You could tell this because his troops wore football shirts, he planned his battles around a subbuteo table, and there were screens in the background projecting images of football teams, to which Othello referred when he spoke of the Venetian success.
And they also kept the lines about combat and sinking ships. So according to this production, the Venetian football team won the match because their Turkish opponents were all drowned in a storm.

I have nothing further to say.

At least it wasn’t a version of Othello with and all-black cast . . .

…Glengary Glen Ross with an all-female cast… It did not work. The script was the same… but those chracters are men. They interact like men. Its so completely masculine. I’m convinced the production came about by someone seeing the Roma monologue where he sells the guy on buying the property as a seduction and said “What if Roma was a girl!”

Ugh… it was truly terrible.

Peter Grimes played straight - where the protagonist is actually guilty, and not as an allegory of society’s rejection of homosexuals (as Britten was).

With a white or arab Othello, why not?

I think (hope) **Colibri **was being a smartass. Patrick Stewart stared in (and I think maybe produced, but I’m not sure) a “photo-negative” casting of Othello. I believe it was well recieved, although I never saw it. Word is, Stewart’s been itching to play Othello since he was a kid.

I did see it. It was a pretty good production, except for the clunky orange uniforms the Cypriots wore, and the Iago (Ron Canada) felt he had to telegraph every little bit of sexual innuedo with pelvic thrusts to be sure the modern audience recognized a Shakespearean double entendre when they heard it.

Patrick Steward did a respectable job in the role, although I had some difficulty seeing him as thick-headed and easily led as Othello should be. Once you accepted the racial switch-around in the casting, it really wasn’t an issue by the end of the first act.