Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'm More Authentic Than You

Is nobody else offended about the recent Campbell Robertson article highlighting Spike Lee's plans to "try Broadway" by making Stalag 17 "more authentic"? I think it's fine that Lee "has never worked in the theater and couldn't recall the last play he attended," as that just means he'll bring a fresh eye to the craft. But he shouldn't be whittling his own agenda into an existing play by changing it in this fashion. If he wants to "make it interesting" for himself, he should pick a new play that he can shape with the playwright -- not mangle something that the writers (former P.O.W.s, by the way, which is as authentic as it gets, unless street cred has had a sudden boom in the market) can no longer change. Well, that's not entirely true; while Edmund Trzcinski is dead, his co-writer Donald Bevan (who hasn't even seen the suggested changed yet) is more or less on board. Now I don't care much for copyright, as I've said previously, and I don't mind Mr. Lee going nuts with his own vision, but why is there the need to tie this into the actual Stalag 17? Even the producer, Michael Abbot admits that "It's not really a revival, it's a new production." Well then: call it that. Because right now it seems like another producer is just trying to cash in on a box-office draw . . . and although "most of the 20 or so performers will be theater actors," they're looking at people like Clive Owen for the lead.

I don't know why I'm so up in arms about this -- after all, Hollywood defaces its own gems on a yearly basis, with shallow remakes that promise to reinvent the genre but really only cash in on the legacy of a better film. Mr. Lee is no stranger to that world, and at least he wants to bring his own strong perspectives to this play, but I just feel that the various shifts in theme are taking this play too far away from its core to be billed as Stalag 17 and becoming too wound up in publicity (so early in the game) to ever live up to any expectations or be a piece of art for art's sake. Granted, nobody wants another stale Caine Mutiny Court-Martial revival, but how about something new that really taps what Lee wants: "more profanity than appears in the script and, perhaps, hints that the relationships between prisoners of war could at times be intimate more than just collegial."

I don't doubt that money is at the source of the whole gimmick: while Lee's intentions may be true, Mr. Abbott didn't persist in trying to get Spike Lee to direct the play he had the rights to because he thought Lee would have such a bold vision. He did it because he thought it would generate attention and help an older play do well. Given that great reviews didn't help Journey's End at all, maybe that's necessary. But is "more exciting" and "more profanity" more authentic? Or more honest? Or are we just diluting our limited pool of Broadway shows with even more off-the-mark gimmickry?

No comments: