Sunday, November 01, 2009

London Fantasy

The Man Who Was Thursday

by G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton restrained himself from being Edgar Allan Poe of Franz Kafka, but something in the makeup of his personality leaded toward the nightmarish, something secret, and blind, and central.
- Borges, Other Inquisitions

More than one hundred years ago in 1908 Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a mysterious fantasy called The Man Who Was Thursday. Sixty years later while I was a student at The University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin I discovered this wonderful book.
Part metaphysical, part philosophical, Chesterton's creation fascinates me as the policeman from Scotland Yard, Gabriel Syme, poet extraordinaire, battles with "anarchists". The conspiracy he discovers and the way that Chesterton tells the story is both mysterious and profound. While the story is at times dreamlike, even nightmarish, it also is filled with humor. A great chase closes the book, as if Chesterton were using the Keystone cops to make philosophical points. The novel must have seemed daring in 1908 and it remains fresh and compelling.

Now, in the twenty-first century, the playwright Bilal Dardai has adapted this story for the stage and done so very successfully. I attended a performance of this adaptation last night as performed by the New Leaf Theatre company directed by Jessica Hutchinson. The cast of ten players (all men) performed exceedingly well navigating a complicated plot and a challenging choreography as the story moves from place to place in Edwardian London. Among the performers Dan Granata as Syme, Nick Mikula as Lucien Gregory and Sean Patrick Fawcett as Sunday were outstanding in their individual portrayals. The direction and ensemble performance was also excellent. This tale presents challenges that were met as the characters came to life and the overall production succeeded in communicating the tone of the original novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and was not disappointed by this adaption of an "old favorite" from my years of reading.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton. Sheed & Ward, New York. 1975 (1908)

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