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To Love And Not Dishonour

Development has begun in earnest on Studio 180’s adaptation of David Rakoff’s poetic masterpiece Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. Core Artistic Team member Mark McGrinder, who serves as Director and co-adaptor of the piece, took a moment to wax philosophical about the privileges and pitfalls of adapting a literary work for the stage following a late January reading of the work in progress.

Actors read from the latest draft of Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

(L to R) Kimwun Perehinec, Mayko Nguyen, Joel Greenberg, Daniel Krolik, Jonathan Wilson, Byron Abalos, Jessica Greenberg and Maria Ricossa read from the latest draft of Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.

Sometimes the strangest things spring to mind when you’re driving on the 400.

Early one foggy November morning, as I headed north of the city to teach one of our Studio 180 IN CLASS workshops, I was overcome with a strange mix of nostalgia and anxiety. The unlikely source of this emotional bouillabaisse: Canada’s Wonderland.

I hadn’t been in years and frankly hadn’t thought about it for almost as long, but my newfound proximity hurtled me back in time. I could practically feel the blue, soft serve Smurf ice cream dripping down my chin as I stood in the mist of the Zoomba Flume. I saw the wooden framework of the Mighty Canadian Minebuster and felt a surge of excitement and indignation, recalling my sister’s hearty assertions of the Wild Beast’s relative superiority.

Lunacy, I know.

These are all reasonable fodder for nostalgia – but what of the anxiety? And what does any of this have to do with art? Once intimidating giants, the mammoth Busters and Beasts of my youth, now lay in the shadow of the aptly named Leviathan and Behemoth. The rides that I treasured, that thrilled, awed and delighted me, were now undone by the bigger, better imperative of contemporary entertainment and technology – and that got me thinking about the challenge of adapting a beloved work for the stage.

The Behemoth dwarfs The Mighty Canadian Minebuster

The Behemoth dwarfs The Mighty Canadian Minebuster

Not long after Studio 180 announced that we would be developing a stage adaptation of David Rakoff’s final book and first novel, Love, Dishnor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish for presentation as part of the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games arts and culture festival PANAMANIA, I began to receive emails from friends and acquaintances alike with one simple refrain.

“Don’t fuck it up!”

I get it. It was an overwhelming affection for Rakoff’s work that inspired us to bring it to the stage. Written in rhyming verse and encapsulating a century of triumph, tragedy and redemption, Rakoff’s epic poem masterfully juxtaposes form and content. Its intimacy is thrilling, its cleverness delights and the experience of first reading it (a single seating endeavour for me) is worthy of profound nostalgia. How do you respect and represent that experience while adapting it for another medium?

love-dishonor-rakoff-cover-image-web-230x347There, in the November fog, it became more apparent to me than ever that a compulsion to top, to expand and to impose would be destructive to the spirit of the book. Our goal is to present Rakoff’s novel on stage in the truest way possible. That means maintaining the verse and respecting its literary origins. There’s room for a flourish here and there, we’d be foolish to neglect the theatrical conventions at our disposal, but there’s no need for a Leviathan or Behemoth to rear its ugly head. While the figurative fog of memory may romanticize my notions of the Wonderland of old, Rakoff’s book is as good as you remember. And if you haven’t read it, please know that our primary focus for its theatrical incarnation is to honour and replicate the joy so many have had in its initial discovery.

It’s daunting playing with memory but inspiring to present the work of a true literary hero in a new form, especially one that he was so fond of. With workshops underway, we’re poised at the top of the coaster . . . and ready to take the plunge.

Thanks to all who attended our January workshop reading and to the actors who helped breathe life into this early iteration of our concert staging of Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.

This production has been commissioned for the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games arts and culture festival, PANAMANIA, presented by CIBC.
In association with the International Festival of Authors.

 

  • A co-founder of Studio 180, Mark is a Toronto-based actor, writer and producer. As a member of our Core Artistic Team, Mark coordinates the company’s new play development initiatives and is one of our Studio 180 IN CLASS workshop leaders. More posts by Mark McGrinder

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