Take On, Take Off: from Inspiration to Travesty (DRA2288.01)

Kirk Jackson

Whether motivated by adoration or outrage, playwrights re-imagine the work of others: updating, inverting, eviscerating, and sometimes even improving on original source material. This class will examine, compare, and speculate on those motivations and values as to whether a given interpretation is a “take on” or a “take off”. We will address adaptation tactics, including these sub-genres: 1) Queering the Classics: The Bacchae to Hurricane Diane by Madeleine George who recasts Dionysus as Diane, a role written specifically for transgender actor Becca Blackwell, and other examples of gender mash-ups; 2) Flipping the Race Card: The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault became An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs Jenkins, whose re-imagined Medieval morality play Everybody determines the characters’ race by lottery; 3) “And then what?”, Prequel to Sequel: some plays are “after”, meaning in imitation of, while others are set literally after (or before) an existing work: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is followed by Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, Lucas Hnath simply names his take on Ibsen’s classic, A Doll’s House, Part 2; 4) How Many Sisters?: many a playwright encounters the ghost of Anton Chekhov, whether as siren song to avoid, Goliath to fell or, for Christopher Durang, more like Wonderland’s Mad Hatter, in his lampoon Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Michael Frayn took arguably “bad” Chekhov (Platonov) and made it better (Wild Honey), while Howard Barker professed derision and critique in his Uncle Vanya; 5) Novel vs. Play vs. Musical vs. Opera: form informs content. Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw became an Opera before it was a play, while his Washington Square was a play before it became a movie. Which is better? There will be accounting for taste and hopefully fun, derived through disagreement.

Many original works were cast race specific, while their contemporary re-imaginings often eschew whiteness as assumed race neutrality. Questions of recasting across gender and race will be a constant consideration of how these works live on today’s stages for today’s audiences. Reading (two or more plays per class), viewing, discussion, and weekly short answer writing will constitute the bulk of the work, including in-class reading aloud.


Learning Outcomes:
Learn how to read and discern a play’s cultural intent or impact.
Develop open-mindedness toward cultural difference.
Deepen an appreciation for re-invention and innovation.
Hone personalizing others’ points of view through exercising empathy.


Delivery Method: Remotely accessible
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
M/Th 10:00AM - 11:50AM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 18
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: Drama , Remotely Accessible , All courses
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