The Carthage College theater program will perform a world premiere play written by a prominent playwright and screenwriter, starting today.
“No Name” takes place in a Victorian-era society and focuses on a sheltered, well-to-do young English woman and her sister, who are thrown into poverty overnight by a distant relative who lays claim to their inheritance. Desperate to protect her family, the daring young Magdalene bands together with a shifty con-man and hatches an outrageous plot to reclaim her wealth.
“It’s a pretty rocky road filled with a lot of twists and turns you would expect from that era,” director Herschel Kruger said.
“No Name” was adapted from a Wilkie Collins novel by the same name as part of Carthage College’s New Play Initiative, in which the college commissions, develops and premieres a new play each year to give students a unique opportunity to work closely with a playwright to originate a role.
“It’s our greatest test as theater educators and theater students, combined as theater artists,” he said. “We’re learning a lot, and we’re doing it together. ... That kind of experience is so invaluable.”
“No Name” is an original play commissioned by Jeffrey Hatcher, who is among the most produced playwrights in American theater today. He wrote the screenplays for “Stage Beauty” (2004, with Billy Crudup and Claire Danes), “Casanova” (2005, with Heath Ledger) and “The Duchess” (2008, with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes).
Among his many plays are “Mrs. Mannerly,” “To Fool the Eye,” and “The Falls.” He also co-authored the stage adaptation of Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
Hatcher’s craft of turning a novel into a play does not involve an exact replica of the story on stage. Instead, it involves many changes and interpretations of the original work, Kruger said.
“In adapting a book, you don’t just take out the dialogue and say ‘here’s the play,’” he said. “In fact, 90 percent of the dialogue is original. There are only a few passages from the novel itself. Some of the events change, but it has to work for the stage.”
However, the experience of working with a prominent playwright on an original piece brings on a whole new way of working that at times can be challenging for the cast and crew.
“Rehearsals started off very exciting, because (Hatcher) was writing and inventing on the spot,” Kruger said. “It’s such a fluid and changing experience. Every time he comes, we have to be on our toes and ready. ... It’s always a fresh, challenging world for our actors to step into.”
The story includes compelling characters, including protagonists people will enjoy and villains they will love to hate.
“It’s fun to dislike the villains, because in the good Victorian thrillers or sensation dramas, the villains have to win some of the battles,” Kruger said. “They have to be vanquished in the end, but they do have to win sometimes and knock our protagonists back a few times.”
It also holds moral messages and important lessons that most people will find themselves able to relate to, Kruger said. The characters’ journey explores blind ambition and seeking a path of revenge, as well as the consequences those dangerous decisions lead to and their permanent effects.
“We’re looking forward to the reactions of our first audience,” he said. “We’re wondering where they’re going to laugh and if they’re going to boo or hiss, because that’s how audiences would react in that time period.”
Carthage also will be taking “No Name” to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it will make its international premiere in the summer of 2014.
If you go
What: Carthage Theatre presents “No Name”
Where: Wartburg Auditorium in the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Natural and Social Sciences (north end of Carthage College campus)
When: 7:30 p.m. March 7-9, 13-15 (Today’s performance includes a pre-show discussion at 6:45 p.m.)
Cost: $12 general admission; $8 students/seniors
To order tickets or reserve seats, call 262-551-6661 or email email@example.com.