Friday, November 02, 2007

Film On Stage - Donnie Darko

In her review of the American Repertory Theatre's adaptation of the film Donnie Darko, Louise Kennedy thetorically asks, "Why not?" Then she answers:

Well, for one thing (and stop me if you've heard this one before),
movies are different from plays. This movie, in particular, derives most of its appeal from exactly those qualities that are impossible to translate to the stage: the way it looks, the way it sounds, and its deft marriage of cinematography and soundtrack to create a polished, subtly off-kilter, and utterly idiosyncratic representation of 1980s suburbia. And its weaknesses, unfortunately, land precisely in those areas most likely to be highlighted by adapting it for live performance: the lapses into pretension and incoherence of
its text.

Thus many lines, lines that sound vaguely cool or Meaningful when
heard in passing as we're immersed in the gleaming surfaces of Kelly's cinematically surreal world, thud with painful portentousness when they're uttered by a person standing right in front of us onstage.


But in attempting to evoke the look of a quick cut or a two-shot, Stern sometimes ignores the imperatives of theatrical space: We're asked, impossibly, to focus on both outer edges of the stage at once, or we're reduced to watching Donnie and his girlfriend (the suitably brooding Dan McCabe and coltish Flora Diaz) stand dead center, with nothing visually going on in the vast spaces around them, as if we could crop out the background as effortlessly as a camera does. We can't, and imaginative theater doesn't ask us to.

I have an idea of what she is talking about, but it is difficult from the the description to completely agree. I haven't seen the production of Donnie Darko, but I have seen hundreds of theatrical productions stage moments in the ways she is mentioning.

For instance, having two people with nothing visual going on in the vast space around them can be used as a powerfull suggestion of overwhelming circumstances or a feeling of being small in the scale of the universe.

Anybody out there seen the show yet, and comment on what the review is mentioning.

***As a side note, film critic Jim Emerson, I believe hits the nail on the head with his analysis of why the film Donnie Darko is so lasting, in a cult sort of way. Here he talks about Frank, the gigantic Rabbit that haunts Donnie throughout the film:

There are other bunnies and stuffed animals (and Smurfs and cartoon rabbits from "Watership Down" in the deleted scenes and "Director's Cut") throughout the movie. But the big one is, of course, Frank. Donnie knows his sister isn't just sleeping with her cuddly stuffed bunny anymore -- she's sleeping with a full-sized and (relatively) hairy man. That Frank has the body of a stuffed animal and the head of a vicious metallic animal seems to be an indication of Donnie's mixed-up feelings toward him (fear, arousal, rage, respect, envy), as the male who's bedding his sister.


Frank is a manifestation of that ambivalent aspect of Donnie's own erupting id, his stifled/frustrated hormonal urges, his feelings of being trapped in his own body and his own brain between childhood and the full-blown sexuality he so desires but knows he can't act on (with Elizabeth, anyway). How appropriate that he's attending Middlesex High School; when it comes to sex, he's stuck in the middle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If Kennedy got anything wrong, it's that she was too kind. I thought the show was a disaster, for exactly the reason she stated: "it has not fully created a persuasive theatrical language of its own." It's hard to believe it's been in the works for years, when so little effort seems to have been put into reconceptualizing it for the stage.