LOS ANGELES--It's the small-theatre coup of the year.
Theatre of NOTE, a 99-seat company in Hollywood will stage the world premiere of an adaptation by Bertolt Brecht and W.H. Auden of John Webster's bloody Jacobean drama The Duchess of Malfi July 31.
Brecht and Auden collaborated on the adaptation in the 1940s for the actress Elisabeth Bergner, who wanted to open the show on Broadway in 1946. But, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, when director George Rylands arrived from London, where he had staged the original Malfi the previous year to considerable acclaim, he insisted on using the original script -- though he agreed to a few of Auden's alterations, including two songs from another Webster play, The White Devil.
"Brecht still received credit as an adapter in tryouts, but he finally removed his name from the production," said the Times. "Auden was listed as the sole adapter."
Denise Gillman "stumbled upon" the Brecht/Auden version while examining Brecht's published works in the CalArts library. "I was captivated," she said. "The poetry was so beautifully perverse." A recent CalArts graduate, she suggested a staging of the adaptation to the Theatre of NOTE, which is now co-producing the play with Gillman's company, Pilgrimage Theatre.
According to the Times, the adaptation borrows a prologue from John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore and uses an original epilogue by Auden. The adapters "changed the focus of the ending," said Gillman, making the strangling of the Duchess the climax of the play.
The two borrowed songs used original Benjamin Britten music on Broadway, but Gillman said she was unable to find the score. For this production, David Bickford of NOTE wrote new music.
The Duchess of Malfi is performed through Sept. 6 at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd. Thursday - Saturday 8 PM. $10-$12. Call (323) 856-8611.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent