Middle Earth Comes to North County

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The Maverick Theater has long sported a big ol' raging boner for staging plays that have some kind of cinematic angle, be it the Fullerton's company's annual Christmas show, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or recent productions of The Manchurian Candidate and The Producers.

So it's not surprising that its big summer show is a piece that will explode onto the silver screen next year, and which serves as prequel to one of the biggest cinematic events of the 21st century, The Lord of The Rings.
It's J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, the classic 1937 novel which Rings director Peter Jackson is turning into a two-part film, the first half of which hits the multi-plexes in 2012. While a print preview of the show will publish in the OC Weekly in a couple of weeks, there's no better time to get some advance 411 on the play from its primary neuromancer: director Nathan Makaryk.
OC Weekly (Joel Beers): Who adapted this piece for the stage?
Our adaptation is by Patricia Gray. There are actually quite a few theatrical adaptations out there, but the script we're using is the closest to Tolkien's actual novel.

Obvious, but why stage a theatrical adaptation of one of the most beloved novels of the 20th century?
Well the War of the Ring is quite similar to the war in Afghanistan ... wait, what? Come on now, we're doing it because it's awesome. We want to entertain people. After I did Treasure Island last year (Maverick artistic director) Brian (Newell) and I were spitting around ideas for other well-known fantasy-type stories with swords and potential mega-puppets, and we laughingly talked about the Hobbit. Then the more I looked into it the more I was able to envision how to do it and knew that if we could pull it off it would be something worth talking about. Certainly nobody ever does it, and with the movies coming out, it's in the general public's awareness right now. It's got an epic scale, big sword fights, a powerful narrative, and huge creatures. We wanted to do something really cool. That's why.
 
This is an ultimate road trip story. How do you convey the feeling of this grand adventure and all the movement in a couple of hours in a theater?
The first thing I realized when thinking about it was that it would be impossible to build a new set for everywhere they go. It wouldn't be credible, and it would be beyond impossible to do on our stage. With the Storyteller character, we have the device of using all of Tolkien's own descriptive language to build the world within the audience's imagination, much as they would if they were reading the book. So we have one multi-functional permanent scenic structure that serves as every location, and rely on the music, lighting, and the storyteller to convey the vast passage of space of time. Personally, I think it works. At the end of every show I'm always astonished at how epic the story has felt.

How do you capture the character of Smaug?
Well I'm certainly not going to tell you that. That's a secret for the audience to discover when it happens. But I can tell you that it takes 18 people to bring our Smaug to life.

There is far more of a kid's feel to the Hobbit than the Lord of the Rings. Does this adaptation capture that spirit or do you want it to have a darker element?
I'm pretty sure the misconception that the Hobbit is a kid's story comes directly from the 1977 cartoon movie. People remember that in the back of their mind and think that because it's a cartoon that this story is for kids. There is very little stylistic difference between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien talks a bit more candidly as the novelist in the Hobbit, but the idea that it in any way is for kids is completely misleading. It's read often in school because of its quality and comparable short length. But in almost every way it is as dark and deeply touching as the Lord of the Rings. Our production tries to be as true to the novel as possible, which means that it is going to be dark, terrifying, and hopefully ultimately uplifting.
 
Are you a bigger fan of Tolkien's books than Peter Jackson's films?
We haven't gotten to see Jackson's Hobbit yet, but if you're talking about the Lord of the Rings then I'm a huge fan of both. The movies are in my top five favorite movies of all time, and while there are obviously many liberties taken from the novel I understand why they were done and don't find the need to argue about them. Both are worthy of immense praise, and ultimately tell the same story. Movies are a completely different beast than a novel, and it's foolish to assume they can be comparable when they approach a fundamentally different part of your listening brain.

People are very used to cinematic aspects in maverick productions. Any of that in the Hobbit?
This production is very theatrical. We start the show by letting the audience know that we are a bunch of actors telling a story. We make no qualms about there not being huge elaborate set changes. The more willing the audience is to believe that we are telling a story in a theatrical manner, the more likely it is that they'll be able to believe in the truly fantastical elements such as the trolls and the dragon. If we were approaching it from a cinematic or more "realistic" direction, it would inevitably fail. The world of Middle Earth is too large to "represent." Either you have to go all the way cinematically as Jackson will be doing, or you have to ask the audience to listen to your story and believe in it. Otherwise it will look very silly.

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