I've recently been working on an adaptation of a Dostoevsky short story called "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man." The project came about from a conversation with Matt J at Theatre Conversation, who had worked on the piece in the past and wanted to put it on its feet in NYC.
Tha translation we're using is the one in the public domain, which can be found here.
As a process for me, it's been challenging. First of all because I agreed to work on it sight unseen, trusting Matt as a person, liking him, and wanting to work with him. Unlike most of the other work I've done, the impulse to work on this didn't come from me. Even with Isaac Butler and The Shadow (which has found its way onto the back burner but is still there roiling around), I read the piece and said "I think I'd like to work on this." With Matt it was "I'd like to work with Matt" and found myself sitting at my computer with some text to grapple with.
The piece itself is both entirely theatrical and entirely impossible. It's a monologue, certainly, and passionate and heightened. You can imagine this "man" and his desire to be heard. On the other hand, it hangs entirely on the Dream, which is a long piece of expository writing, which goes on for quite a long time. It's sort of like trying to turn "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" into a one-man show.
At first, I thought I'd do a broad re-ordering of the text, but found myself feeling that was unnecessary: I did want to keep the spirit of this thing and keep this as, essentially, Dostoevsky. I didn't want to gut it and throw the pages on the floor and figure out how to cleverly reconstruct it. Then I thought maybe there were places to simply modernize the language: another bad impulse that I ultimately spared myself.
So, first in...I started with the basics, which was to simply edit it down. There is judicious editing, and much of the original text has been sliced away entirely. One thing that allowed me to be so merciless with the text was that the Garnett translation isn't all that beautiful anyhow: it's a tad clunky. It also helped that I wasn't feeling some deep connection to the text to begin with. It's the first time I felt as if I could treat something this mercilessly, and it felt rather good. I hope it worked.
Deeper in, I did some rewriting in order to give the language some more punch in English. Whatever made, let's say, Gogol, a genius in the wordsmithing of his language is often lost when it's translated into English. Idiosyncracies and creative usage are essential to a writer, and there was no way I could, in the amount of time I had, hope to use the existing translation and my own ignorance to somehow whip up into a faithful version. Instead, I overwrote the English translation with my own original stuff, with no particular regard to the original intent of the author.
Furthermore, I've created specific families and factions for the dream and named them, so that as the piece describes the corruption and transformation of the people in question...we see who they are and what they stood for and have some markers and roadmaps as listeners. And, of course, to make it more specific for the actor. It's a large departure from the text... and my hope is that it pays off, and doesn't bastardize the original work.
There's more, for certain. But I guess that's a start. I'd love to see you all at the performances and to talk with you about it afterwards. Click here for more information.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.