Jonathan Demme Jumps Mediums To Direct a Beth Henley Yarn

PlayBlog   Jonathan Demme Jumps Mediums To Direct a Beth Henley Yarn
 
Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley met a quarter of a century ago on neutral turf — in television, doing a PBS series — and they have been plotting a professional reunion ever since then.


Only now is it coming to pass — and only now because Demme is switching media, making his stage-directing debut Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (April 9-May 23), reviving Henley's Family Week. That play came and went in less than a week a decade ago this month — unfairly, Demme feels — obviously, having been a fan of the piece on first reading way back then. "I don't want to overstate it," he overstates, "but I think, in the annals of American plays, this is a real gem. I even thought to myself, 'Maybe we could do a film version of Family Week,' and over the years I have spoken to some actresses about it. They read it, and they loved it, but it was just one of these things that hasn't happened."

Another missed movie opportunity was the screen version of Henley's Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart, but that fell through at the last minute.

The closest they've come to a film-teaming was "The Stopwatch Gang," based on Greg Weston's book about a gang of real-life Canadian bank robbers who cut a swath across North American banks in the 1980s, using nonviolent means.

"It was hard for the studio computers to tell the executives how much money the film might gross because it was difficult to categorize. You couldn't really call it a comedy, though it had a tremendous amount of humor, because the hero winds up behind bars for the rest of his life, and you couldn't call it a drama because it had so much humor in it. It was a little too original. They loved her script but said, 'We're not sure how we'll sell it,' so we didn't make 'The Stopwatch Gang' — yet."

— Harry Haun

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