The next two weeks will be as fruitful for stage adaptations as any period in recent memory. (Enjoy it while it lasts; once the summer juggernauts descend, quirkier fare becomes harder and harder to find, especially in smaller markets.) No fewer than three films based on plays will hit theaters between now and May 5, when "A Midsummer Night's Dream" begins its platform release.
"Midsummer" director/screenwriter Michael Hoffman says in his production notes that his innovations were confined to fleshing out the interior life of Bottom (Kevin Kline) and setting the play in turn-of-the century Tuscany, complete with lots of antique bicycles. The latter choice helped him steer clear of too many expensive special effects shots: "Puck says things like, "I'll put a girdle round about the earth/In forty minutes." And I thought, What am I going to do with that? Then it occurred to me, maybe [Puck's] turtle gets swapped for a bicycle." Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett and Calista Flockhart are among the other actors, making this probably the starriest Shakespeare offering of 1999.
Before "Midsummer" opens, April 30 will see limited releases of two smaller films with stage pedigrees. David Mamet has adapted for the screen and directed Terrence Rattigan's 1946 drama "The Winslow Boy," about the damage inflicted on an upper-class British family after one of its younger members is accused of petty theft. Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife and frequent collaborator, stars along with Nigel Hawthorne and Jeremy Northam. (Northam also stars in Miramax's "An Ideal Husband," due out in July.) Mamet has adapted several Chekhov plays for the stage before, but this is his first adaptation for the big screen.
Also worthy of attention is "Get Real," an adaptation of Patrick Wilde's 1993 London play What's Wrong With Angry? "The biggest change for me is that here I'm just the writer," says Wilde, who also directed and starred in the play. Both follow a gay teenager and his group of friends as they fumble their way through late adolescence.
He's glad that "Get Real," which has won a few film festival prizes and was screened at Sundance earlier this year, now has a chance to expand its audience beyond the "10,000 gay people" that saw What's Wrong With Angry? on the West End. In fact, he says that if he had to choose, he'd rather reach a straight audience: "I'd like lots of parents to see it. If you're a black kid, you of course experience racism out in the world, but you don't experience it at home. If you're a gay kid, though, homophobia can be a huge problem in the home. Adolescence is a minefield for all of us, but I think especially so for gay teens.' Wilde concedes a certain similarity between his work and Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing, which is currently playing off-Broadway and has already been made into a film. Two weeks before What's Wrong With Angry? debuted in 1993, he opened the Times of London to see a review of Beautiful Thing. "I thought, "Oh my god! Somebody's beaten me to it!" But they're really quite different. I think my play is much angrier and more political, although not so much in the film. I mean, the two titles are rather telling.'
A footnote to this trend: Still another playwright is bringing a gay coming-of-age tale to the screen. Variety recently reported a new film division from longtime Woody Allen producer Jean Doumanian, devoted to young writer-directors. One of its first projects is "The Story of a Bad Boy," written and directed by Tom Donaghy (Northeast Local, Minutes from the Blue Route). No word yet on a release date.
Cutting-Room Floor: Critics and parents aren't the only ones upset about the recent movie of "The King & I." ABC News recently reported a boycott sponsored by the University of Michigan Thai Students Association. Their objections go beyond the film to include "the abhorrent legacy of The King & I," dismissing Anna Leonowens as "a figure of little significance in Thai history." ABC News added that the higher profile, live-action "Anna and the King," starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, is expected to come up against considerably stronger objections when it opens this fall. ... I have it from an extremely well-placed source that the "Chicago" movie has been shelved for at least the foreseeable future and very possibly for good. ...Art director Matthew Warchus is currently in post-production on the film of Sam Shepard's Simpatico with Sharon Stone, Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges. (Remember, Simpatico attracted its share of name actors, including Ed Harris and Beverly D'Angelo, when it opened at the Public in 1994.) According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fine Line Features paid about $3 million sight unseen for the domestic rights. Filming took place in Kentucky and California, the same locations as in the play. Surprisingly, Shepard -- one of the theater world's more seasoned Hollywood veterans -- isn't credited as the screenwriter. ... Speaking of Art, playwright Yasmina Reza has been named one of the 10 Cannes Film Festival jurors. Among the films competing is Tim Robbins's "The Cradle Will Rock," based on the 1937 Marc Blitzstein musical; "The Winslow Boy" and "An Ideal Husband" are both being exhibited but aren't competing. The festival runs May 12-23.
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief for Show Music magazine and a theater critic for Back Stage.