In 2007, Richard Henrich adapted the Ursula K. Le Guin book, The Lathe of Heaven, for a production at Spooky Action Theater, which he directed. But the show didn’t completely fulfill his vision of the story.
Fast forward about 10 years, and Henrich approached playwright Natsu Onoda Power, associate professor in Georgetown’s Program in Theater and Performance Studies, about giving an adaptation a shot.
“It’s Richard’s favorite book but he wasn’t completely happy with the production he had and wanted to try again, so asked me to adapt it for the stage,” Power says. “I read the book on summer vacation because I wasn’t familiar with the work and I was really taken by it. It’s a different kind of project for me. There’s a really clear, linear plot, which is very different than what I have taken on in the past. It’s also a very wordy book, beautifully written with lots of technical explanations, which is different for me as well.”
Still, the genre of science fiction was very familiar to Power and one that she enjoys exploring, so she agreed to give it a go. She admits that she didn’t fall completely in love with the book at first, but took it as a great challenge.
Her feelings changed right after the November 2016 election.
“I was sitting in Richard’s office and everyone was upset and traumatized and I came to the realization that we’re kind of living in the world of this book, with what people consider to be our worst nightmares coming true,” she says. “Suddenly, the book had more currency to me. I felt that it was an important story to tell in ways I didn’t initially realize.”
With the script complete and Power handling directing duties as well, the show was ready to be staged. One of the things special about the production is that it will first play Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center, Jan. 25-27, before moving to a three-week run at Spooky Action Theater where it opens February 11 as part of Washington D.C.’s Women’s Voices’ Festival.
It also will feature professional actors in the main roles and some of Georgetown’s acting students in the ensemble, tasked with the demanding jobs of being actors, puppeteers, crew, movers, puzzle-solvers and more.
Power provides a quick synopsis of the show: “A protagonist named George Orr has this condition where he dreams effectively every now and then, meaning whatever he dreams, becomes reality. Not only does it become reality but also it puts himself and the rest of the world in an alternate reality that his dream has already been through.”
The Lathe of Heaven
February 15 – March 11, 2018
Details and tickets
For instance, if he dreams about the world’s population being half of what it is now, when he wakes up the world’s population would be half of what it was and it’s always been that way and people don’t question it.
“A psychiatrist finds out about this ability and decides to use his ability to make a better world,” Power says. “He hypnotizes him to dream about a world without crisis or disease and things come to reality one by one. However, the consequences show that even when people mean well, you can destroy the world.”
Although Power never saw Henrich’s original adaptation, she did use his script as audition sides so she’s familiar with what he wrote.
“So much of what we do in this production is non-verbal, “she says. It’s also very object driven; there are puppets and objects that tell the story and we’ve really embraced the humor.”
Ursula Le Guin, who died this week at the age of 88, wrote the novel in 1971 and Power notes so much of the story echoes the era—including how people talk about race and gender—even though the setting is in 2002.
“There’s a disorientating feeling of people living in the book with a different kind of value system,” she says. “To address all of that, we’ve made the choice to play up the idea that this is our present being imagined from the past. We use a lot of ’70s inspired music and aesthetics in the play so it’s really retro sci-fi. It’s a lot of fun and you will some really unusual things.”
The show stars Erica Chamblee, Matthew Vaky and Matthew Marcus, as well as an ensemble of Georgetown University theater students including Mark Camilli, Vanessa Chapoy, Jonathan Compo, Michaela Farrell, Kate Ginna, Adrian Iglesias and ?Maddy Rice.
“The students are getting a lot out of working with the three professionals, who are each at a different point in their career, so it’s great for the student to see. They are learning about professionalism and what it means to work as a professional actor,” Power says.
The students are also looking forward to performing the show at Spooky Action, for longer than the normal two-weekend run they are used to and the fact that they will be reaching a wider audience and demographic than the ones they are used to performing only at Georgetown.
“I have never been in a show that has had more than eight performances, so I guess you can say I look forward to—if not, slightly terrified—of having a month-long run,” Chapoy says. “Working with the professional actors has been such a great experience—they are just so inspiring and crazy-talented human beings. I can’t wait to share the stage with them at Spooky.”
She hopes audiences walk away with knowing how much of a creative genius Power is for adapting such a beautiful sci-fi novel into a theatrical production.
“It’s incredible,” Chapoy says. “The audience is going to have to contextualize themselves into the ’70s take on the future. All in all, I hope the audience leaves the theater questioning their own perceptions of reality, the repercussions of power, and just how self-destructive the human race can be.”
Ginna had been in two of Power’s works at Georgetown before and knew this show would be both incredibly inventive and touching, so she was excited to be a part of it.
“I think part of the beauty of this show is that there are various layers and scenes and moments that all touch on different subjects—from sexual assault to racism,” she says. “And we explore those topics in often quite creative and entertaining ways, so I would like for audiences to enjoy themselves, but be critical of their own enjoyment—why did they laugh or cry or cringe?”