Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Actresses? What?

Happy President's Day! As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm planning on having two different actresses play the Unicorn and Amalthea, despite one of them being transformed into the other. "Why?" you might ask, and with justification. It seems like most other theatre pieces I can think of that involve transformation (most productions of Jekyll & Hyde, for example) one actor plays both roles. And there's certainly some resonance that could be achieved that way. But I think going with two actresses is the better choice, for both some very practical reasons, and some important thematic ones as well. Reasons include:

1) In act two, Amalthea has to transform back into the Unicorn almost instantly. I'd prefer to have the actress playing the Unicorn simply step onto the stage than bring the action (which is at a climax at that point) to a screeching halt while a quick change happens.

2) If the same actress plays both, she will have to be on stage for nearly every scene in the play. Splitting the responsibility will keep any single cast member from being overwhelmed.

3) The Unicorn is not going to be represented literally, as I explain in this post. If the same actress plays both of them there isn't enough difference between the Unicorn and Amalthea. I'd like them to have striking differences.

4) Now on to more thematically important territory. As a piece of ensemble story theater, this production of "The Last Unicorn" will have a group of characters playing many different parts. One of the reasons for this is I'm interested in exploring the resonance you get when, for example, the same actor that plays Captain Cully also plays Drinn, or the same actors that play Haggard and Lir also play the two Hunters at the beginning of the story. So, I want the same actress that plays the Princess in that brief Prince/Princess (this scene is only in the book, not the movie- movie fans, read the book! I promise you won't regret it) scene to also play Amalthea. I think it creates a pretty cool resonance- it plays with the idea that Schmendrick's magic sort of "borrows" the appearance of the Princess they see before to transform the Unicorn into a human.

5) It allows us to involve the Unicorn's original form more directly in scenes in act two, including when Amalthea has her nightmare, and when Amalthea uses her secret Unicorn powers to disrupt Mabruk's spell. The most important reason for having two actresses play the Unicorn and Amalthea, however, is it makes the following exchange possible, in the act two Kitchen scene:

(The UNICORN appears and speaks in tandem with AMALTHEA.)

UNICORN/AMALTHEA: The magician gave me only the semblance of a human being. But now I am two:

UNICORN: Myself,

AMALTHEA: And this other that you call ‘my lady.’

UNICORN/AMALTHEA: She walks in the castle, she sleeps, she dresses herself, she takes her meals,

AMALTHEA: -and she thinks her own thoughts.

UNICORN: And every day she searches the sea and the sky for something she cannot always remember.

AMALTHEA/UNICORN: What is it that she is seeking?

AMALTHEA: (as the UNICORN exits) She knew a moment ago, but she has forgotten.

Pretty neat, huh?


Anonymous said...

this is exciting. Did you get the musical rights from America. I hope so. The songs are so beautiful and haunting.

Ed R said...

I love the music from the movie, but since it'll be an adaptation of the book I didn't want to get all tangled up in additional rights negotiations. Right now I'm looking into having some new music composed for the stage version though- I'll keep everyone updated through the blog. Thanks for checking us out1

Courtney said...

Oh wow. Wow.

So I found your blog by looking for Last Unicorn-related images, of all things.

You have no idea how excited I am that you are adapting this story. This is one of my favorite books of all time, and I've always thought it was a shame that no one thought to make it into a play or a movie (the animated movie is amazing, but there is so much subtext left out).

Your obvious love for the material shows in all these posts-- I particularly love the comic cut scenes you created. I'm going to check back often to see how the whole thing comes together, and I'm definitely considering a trip down to Chicago to see it!

PS- Check out the artwork link in my signature if you'd like-- I recently posted a Last Unicorn-themed drawing.

Ed R said...

Thank! I love your artwork. So my question is, is that picture Amalthea becoming the Unicorn...or the Unicorn becoming Amalthea? Either way it rocks.

I'm so glad you're enthusiastic about this project. It's near and dear to my heart. We're doing another reading of the latest draft this weekend- depending on how it goes we might have to draw another cut scene comic. There's a bit I'm thinking of cutting just due to length considerations that we *have* to do something with even if we cut it from the script.

Also, I loved your mermaid drawings. Actually, one of my projects I want to work on after Unicorn is an adaptation of "The Little Mermaid." The idea is to examine the similarities between her and the character of Ophelia in "Hamlet."

jrichards2 said...

Dear Ed,
A point of clarification. The Last Unicorn, a play with music was originally adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Huddle with original music composed by June Richards and Elaine Lang. It was presented as a workshop production in San Francisco with Peter Beagle, our dear friend's permission and enthusiasm. In 1988, The Intiman Theatre under the Artistic Direction of Elizabeth Huddle, presented the WORLD PREMIERE of THE LAST UNICORN, adapted by Peter Beagle with original music by June Richards and Elaine Lang. The production featured dancers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company. There were many artists included in this exciting venture, including our dear friend Peter Beagle. Variety published a review, and the show opened to excellent reviews and public acclaim.
June E. Richards

Ed R said...

Hi June,
Good point. To clarify everyone, the production this fall is the world premiere of this particular stage adaptation, *not* the first time "The Last Unicorn" has been adapted to the stage! If you're curious there's quite a bit of info on prior productions on the web and I encourage you to check it out!