Journey through the Creation of Adapt! - Three Kinds of February
An Actress's Notebook by Krista Apple
Ronald Reagan just got a makeover.
As I type this, Ross Beschler is in the rehearsal hall with new script pages in hand. Hot off the presses. Blanka did rewrites to the play’s penultimate scene last night; and in the process, she gave Ronald Reagan a facelift.
ADAPT! ensemble member and Wilma HotHouse Company Member Ross Beschler.
Without giving too much away: Reagan (as portrayed by Ross) makes a grand entrance near the end of the play. He’s all cowboy drawl, white tuxedo and American Dream. He’s an emissary of a new world: the spokesperson for America, where the play’s main character Lenka may soon arrive… if she chooses to leave behind her family, her friends, and her heritage in the authoritarian regime of early 1980’s Czechoslovakia. Reagan dazzles Lenka with visions of the American Dream. His visions of America can sound lofty and, in hindsight, naive.
When asked about the script, Ross reflects: “The revisions, and what we’re investigating in the scene, has more to do with tone than content... Reagan has to really believe what he believes. We can’t spin that, and we can’t comment on it.” So the question becomes: how can the scene portray Reagan’s true, earnest perception of an idealized American Dream? How do we couch contradictions like his resistance to Affirmative Action inside of that? In Ross’s words: “Reagan’s American Dream has to be dream as in myth, not dream as in delusion. The character has to be real, not a political cartoon or a caricature.”
40th President Ronald Reagan
Working on a new play is thrilling for actors. It’s evolving right before your eyes. You’re part of the change. You’re also quite often on your toes as the rewrites continue through opening.
But it’s all in our title, right? ADAPT! It sounds like a reminder: evolve how and when you can. Do it consciously. Keep moving. Press forward. Be something that happens to time and space. Plays adapt, and so do people. Onstage and off, adaptation is a creative act. It’s also an act of survival. A chemical reaction between self and circumstance.
The play isn’t the words on the page; that’s just the script. The play isn’t the words read by the actors with lights and sound; that’s just a rehearsal. The play is what happens every night between the stage and its spectators. And that space is inevitably filled with context. Time and place. A collective chemical reaction between self and circumstance.
Blanka has been working on ADAPT! for over two years. Entire characters and scenes have appeared and/or vanished. The beginning is COMPLETELY different than it was two weeks ago. Not to mention Ronald Reagan’s makeover. But nothing has changed the play more than the passage of time. Consider:
February 2015 was the first public reading of the play. President Obama had just formally sought authorization from Congress to fight ISIS; internet regulation was about to arrive; New England had won the Superbowl. The President’s 2012 executive action was officially protecting “dreamers” from deportation, and creating a pathway to citizenship.
In February 2016, Blanka was in the process of re-writes. President Obama had just announced an historic visit to Cuba; Judge Antonin Scalia had passed away; Denver had just won the Superbowl. The first presidential primary caucus votes had just been placed in Iowa; Clinton had won (by an edge) and so had Cruz (by a landslide).
And then here we are. February 2017. Trump has been inaugurated, Aleppo has fallen, and Brexit has begun. New England just won another Superbowl. Trump’s executive “Muslim Ban” order has been blocked, but deportation ICE raids are sweeping the country and anti-immigration rhetoric is high. America’s identity is in jeopardy: the America that Emma Lazarus so famously celebrated as a haven for “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is changing. Adapting. We have yet to know, truly, how.
And so, quite suddenly, our play about a young immigrant coming to America to seek freedom of expression has taken on a whole new meaning. The play’s references to walls, immigrants, refugees, cub scouts, and Freedom take on a whole new meaning. So does Ronald Reagan. Everything about the past is now warped by the changing present.
And so the title of Blanka’s play has evolved somehow, too. Three February’s ago it felt like a celebration of time, accomplishment, survival. Now It feels like a warning. I’m just not sure who’s warning whom.