Surreal ‘City of Glass’ leaps from novel to New York stage

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Playwright Edward Einhorn, left, and novelist Paul Auster on the set for “City of Glass” at the New Ohio Theatre. (Photo by Gil Sperling)

If playwright Edward Einhorn hadn’t been able to think like a gumshoe, he never would have gotten permission to make a theater adaptation of Brooklyn novelist Paul Auster‘s “City of Glass” — one of the best, and most surreal, detective-style novels of the last half century.

But luck and persistence were on the 45-year-old Einhorn’s side, who used his amateur detective skills to put himself and his idea in front of the 69-year-old author.

“I sought out Paul,” he tells Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? in an exclusive telephone interview.

“I found out where he was going to be and I approached him about doing it. To my pleasure he was interested and very responsive. … I figured I would talk to him for a minute or two and just introduce the idea. I wasn’t going to take up too much of his time. But he actually pursued it with a lot more questions and we talked about it longer than expected.

“He seemed very open to the idea.”

“City of Glass,” published in 1986, was the first of three short novels in Auster’s “New York Trilogy.” It tells a surreal story of Daniel Quinn, a writer, who gets a call from someone who thinks he’s a private detective named Paul Auster. The chance call launches a surreal, only-in-New-York narrative that raises questions about sanity, identity, and reality.

It was an instant cult hit and catapulted Auster into literary superstardom at age 39.

Video and ticket discount code after the jump.

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Edward Einhorn (www.edwardeinhorn.com)

Edward Einhorn (www.edwardeinhorn.com)

Einhorn, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where “City of Glass” is set, specializes in literary adaptation for the stage, was a longtime admirer of the book.

“I read it some years ago and it felt like the sort of thing that I could have written myself because it was so close to my own interests and obsessions— even stylistic ideas,” Einhorn says. “I was really drawn to it.”

“It’s just the sort of mixture of film noir and Beckett-inspired language and the obsession with questions of language and linguistics and identity that really matched my own interests,” Einhorn explains. “It felt very theatrical. It felt on the page like it was already partway there.”

Since founding his own theater company, Untitled Theater Company #61 (UTC61),   in 1991, Einhorn has shown a particular interest in adapting works of prose for the stage.

His earlier stage adaptations include Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (the book on which movie “Blade Runner” was based) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven.” He also did an English adaptation of Czech playwright Václav Havel’s final work, “The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig.”

“I’ve done a lot of adaptations,” says Einhorn, who explains that his work had the direct approval of Le Guin and Havel. (Dick died in 1982.)  “I’m used to the sort of approach … I have this technique of how I go after these adaptations based on people I admire.”

Einhorn admits that while supportive, Auster had his doubts.

“The first question he asked me is, ‘How can this be put on stage?’

“It is such a surreal novel,” Einhorn says.

“One of the main questions is, what do you do about Daniel Quinn’s identity, since it sort of changes through the course of the novel,” he says.

“I think it takes a very stylized production to convey that,” he continues. “My idea is relatively straightforward in that I ‘m using one actor and two nonspeaking performers, and we’re telling the story with those three. But it also makes identity a little bit amorphous.”

 

The production also features extensive video and lighting techniques to help tell the story.

“You sort of have to see how they interact onstage to see how that conveys what the book is,” he says.

“The main point of this was just to capture the soul of the book. And I do think it does, so I think people who are fans of the book will be happy with that.”

IF YOU GO

What: “City of Glass,” adapted and directed by Edward Einhorn, starring Robert Honeywell. Featuring Mateo Moreno and Dina Rose Rivera. Music composed and performed by Freddi Price. Choreography by Patrice Miller.

When: Feb. 19-March 12, various times.

Where: New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, Manhattan. Go here for directions.

Tickets: $25-$30. Go here to buy online or call 888-596-1027. Tickets to all performances Feb. 19-21 are just $15 with code UTC61.

 

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