Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Someone Bought the House on the Island

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2008 at 9:21 PM

When I attended closing night of the play, Someone Bought the House on the Island, at Marigny Theatre, I did not know in advance that the play was adapted from a novel. But soon into the play, I came to that conclusion myself. I also suspected that the playwright and novelist are the same person. Why? Because certain technical gaffs in the script were committed by someone with a fiction writer's perspective on storytelling. My suspicion was confirmed in the after-show talkback with the author, Ken Anderson. The story itself is fine, if you like gay melodrama, which I do. But my main observation about Someone Bought the House on the Island is that the script is an awkward adaptation of fiction, and may have been accomplished better by someone other than the novelist himself.

For example, too often, the protagonist breaks out of scene to read from a dog-eared journal, long descriptive passages and direct narration that the playwright wanted to preserve from his novel, but could find no other way to dramatize, I suppose. These interruptions stop the drama dead each time. We writers fall in love with our own words, and are loathe to cut them. My unasked for advice (you knew it was coming): cut 'em anyway. Like the Titans of old, we eat our own children. Besides, if you can't dramatize it, then how is it drama?

Also, fiction allows abrupt, spontaneous jumps between time and location, whereas drama does not. You still have the practical issue of getting actors off-stage and on, while sustaining dramatic tension, sustaining the storyline, and not confusing the audience. But in this adaptation, after too many minor scene-ettes, actors left the stage, only to turn right around and return, as though indicating the passage of time. Clumsy. Solution: Connect scene-ettes into longer continuous moments, and re-think entrances and exits.

Performances were the saving grace of the evening. Kevin Ford, the "older man" gave the most natural, even seductive performance. The protagonist, Trenton Ryan Perez, was cast for his boy-next-door good looks, but he can act, especially in scenes with Kevin Ford. They had good onstage communication working for them. Dennis Monn, the druggie slut (hmm, seems I've seen Dennis in that role before...) is the comedic highlight. The play also marks the stage debut of my friend Eric Webb, who did a fine job under difficult circumstances. My unasked for advice to Eric: Project your voice.

Someone Bought the House on the Island is the winner of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, the "gay lit" conference attended by the likes of National Book Award finalist Dorothy Allison and Jim Grimsley, both members of the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Authors. It's no slouch of a conference. The winner of each year's playwriting competition is staged the following year at Marigny Theatre. Think it's time I submitted something myself.

by Frederick Mead

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