To the editors:
I was going to let this go, it seeming futile to respond to a review, but after some reflection, I’ve concluded that I must.
Last week [October 15] Jack Helbig reviewed Greek Streets, currently running at the Royal George Gallery. In praising the production, an adaptation of stories by Harry Mark Petrakis, he took a swipe at City Lit–among others–who have “done to death” a technique for adaptation (used in the production he praises) that “treats fiction as mere fodder for the stage.”
City Lit’s mission is not to treat literature as mere anything. City Lit was a pioneer when it defined its mission–to celebrate the vitality and accessibility of the literary imagination by adapting and performing great writing. The style Helbig derides is one City Lit developed over 14 years that treats the text with reverence. That many Chicago companies are now dedicated to staging literary adaptations testifies not only to City Lit’s success but to the theatrical power and popularity of the form. To speak of such adaptations as merely “parceling out the narration to various actors . . . ” is to belittle work that Mr. Helbig himself has raved about as recently as last week in his review of The Little Sister at Lifeline–adapted by Mark Richard, City Lit’s Artistic Director. By incorporating narration into the performance, rather than dramatizing the dialogue alone, we do not treat literature as “fodder,” but seek to capture and communicate as fully and authentically as possible the essence of a great text.
City Lit’s work is entertaining theatre–and it is also a public celebration of the private pleasures of reading. Our educational outreach program, which has reached over 290,000 children, encourages them to read. And the excitement we generate is exemplified by a young girl who approached an actor after a performance, book in outstretched hand, saying, “That was terrific. Have you read this one?”
I find it perplexing that Jack Helbig was so gratuitously flip when speaking about our adaptive style, particularly when he noted how well it works in Greek Streets. His comment that we treat literature as “mere fodder for the stage” is particularly ironic considering that his own writing for the stage includes adaptations of the work of others.