Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Storylines revisited

Yesterday, a story from NPR showed up in my Google Reader about a Shakespeare production that has been re-invented to reflect modern issues, and it got me thinking about various plays and movies I've seen that have played with traditional set-ups like this. One of the earliest examples I can remember was a production of Taming of the Shrew that I saw in junior high. It was done at the state college in town, and the director chose to reimagine it in a wild west setting. I was enthralled. To this day, it remains one of my favorite theater experiences ever, and considering I was a theater major for a good chunk of college and still go whenever I can, that says a lot.

Movies do this all the time. Remember Clueless? Jane Austen's Emma moved to the LA high school world. And we constantly see an influx of books that try the same thing. It's magical when it works well, but while I'm in awe of writers who can pull it off, I also find myself more critical of the end result. Stories like that have to compete with more well-known versions, as well as reader expectations. Some readers are purists and don't like having things tampered with. Others prefer to be surprised. I tend to fall in the latter camp, but I do wonder how big that camp really is. In so many ways, genre fiction is highly predictable, and the author who breaks ranks to switch things up often becomes the target of debate.

Round hole/square peg analogies abound because sometimes the reinventions just don't work. But when they do...it's amazing. Memories can be created that will last for years. I'm sure the director of that Taming production never thought an audience member would be reminiscing about it fondly decades later. I'd like to hope it would please him or her to no end to realize it.

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