I thought about it like a day when you eagerly carve out the entire afternoon, plant yourself in a comfy chair with a flask of coffee, turn off all the distractions, and sink into that book you’ve been waiting to read. Last Sunday, I packed a bottle of water, suited up in comfy clothes, and planted myself in the Book-It Theatre in Seattle Center for the epic showing of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”
The performance, adapted by Jeff Schwager and directed by Myra Platt, gives life to Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Packed full of magic, action, love, and humor, the story also manages to tackle tough topics like World War II, the Holocaust, sexuality, and fear-mongering McCarthyism. The success that cousins Joe Kavalier (Frank Boyd) and Sammy Clay (David Goldstein) find creating comic book heroes animates the personal complications of becoming heroes in their own lives, despite the very formidable odds that war and prejudice place in their way.
The Book-It method is committed to preserving the integrity of a book’s language and character. The ingenuity of the creative team brings the story to life. A stylistic adaptation of a book for theatre (versus typically literal cinematic adaptations) ensures that audience imagination is still an active part of the production. Jeff Schwager praised Book-It audiences, whose combined interest in live theatre and literature embraces experimentation, which inspired Book-It to team up with magicians, graphic novelists, and composers to bring the show off the page. Schwager spent 18 months building the script, which he and the creative team decided would need four acts to keep their commitment to the text. Yes, we do all pause to consider. Four hours? Really? Five hours, counting the two brief intermissions and the forty-minute dinner break. Of course, just like the afternoon with that special book we’ve devoted ourselves to read without distraction, time moves at a different speed. More often, we are surprised that the time has passed at all when engagement is that deep.
The seamless balance of action and exposition and the very clever staging (the comic strip scenes were especially fantastic) capture and sustain our attention for the duration of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” Audience devotion to the prize-winning novel or to the beloved Book-It organization could explain how full the house was when the curtain went up, but it cannot explain how enthusiastic it was for the standing ovation or how happy the exclamations were that I heard from the crowd that filed out with me after five hours together on a Sunday afternoon. Lots of people were going to be telling their friends. And so, I’m telling you. According to the trio seated behind me who hadn’t read the novel yet, jumping into the play before the book will not limit your enjoyment of this sensory-rich and engaging production. Save part of your day, step away from the distractions and treat yourself to an immersive experience.
Book-It Repertory Theatre
The Center Theatre, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA
June 7- July 13
Bonus Books: A recommended reading list from adapter Jeff Shwager The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the Creators of Superman by Brad Ricca
The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turrow
The Royal Game or Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig
Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Shadows on the Hudson by Isaac Bashevis Singer Kristianne Huntsberger is a writer, performer and educator who, when not roaming the world, makes her home in Seattle. She has worked with the Elliott Bay Book Company in various capacities over the past ten years.