After finding theatrical success with literary adaptions of American classics The Great Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury, acclaimed New York theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service decided it should go for the trifecta with Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. And now local theatergoers can catch a performance of the ensemble’s third adaptation at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) Lansburgh Theatre through April 2.
“In 2005, Gatz [the ensemble’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby] was a big hit for us,” says John Collins, Elevator Repair Service’s Artistic Director. “And normally, we try hard to do something completely different the next time, but we chose to do another novel with Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Once that was done, I knew I wanted to make it a trilogy. I really enjoy the early 20th-century modernist style; writing that existed comfortably between something very contemporary and something very alien.”
Collins drew an imaginary line between Fitzgerald and Faulkner, and the result was Hemingway. He started reading some of the author’s best-known works to see what would work as a play.
“My sense of Hemingway was from The Old Man and the Sea, but I was trying to find something that would spark an idea, and once I read The Sun Also Rises, the dialogue felt like it had been written for this company,” Collins says. “We had a number of actors who kind of fell right into parts as we were reading it out loud. We were a company of Americans and an Australian, and we were traveling around Europe a lot. There was something easy to relate to with these expats winding around Europe and drinking too much. It was a good fit for us.”
The story follows a group of American and British expatriates gallivanting their way through France and Spain, and landing in Pamplona where bullfighting and the fiesta rage in the streets. Jake, the narrator of the novel, carries heavy burdens of a war injury and his failure to win the heart of the woman he loves.
Unlike the previous two plays in the series, which were done more or less verbatim, Collins chose to do a more conventional adaptation. The result, The Select (The Sun Also Rises), made its debut in 2009.
“We pulled a play out of the novel because it was the dialogue that we were attracted to, and painted around the edges with narration,” Collins says. “This novel is a lot wittier than what most people associate with Hemingway.”
In addition to directing, Collins will also be appearing onstage for the first time in this production as Robert Cohn, the hero’s foil.
“I don’t normally do this, but I can with this show because we’ve performed this piece about 150 times now, so my input as a director is more or less done. I travel with the show to capture new ideas, and now I’ll get to be part of it all onstage.”
The play features a lot of dancing and fun with sound effects, and even stages a bullfight in the middle of a café.
“There’s a kind of joy and fun that’s there under the surface of this novel that we try to bring out,” Collins says. “Also, there’s something beautiful and truthful to the central relationship. It’s sweet and sad and Hemingway takes something tragic and has the beauty come through.”
Don’t miss The Select (The Sun Also Rises) at STC’s Lansburgh Theatre through April 2. Tickets start at $44, and Young Prose Nights are on March 15 and 24.
STC’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org