Jonathan Safran Foer’s popular novel comes to Ensemble in a stage adaptation
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays – Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 28
Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria
Cost: $60 – $75
Information: (805) 965-5400 or etcsb.org
In 2002 “Everything Is Illuminated” catapulted the then-unknown writer Jonathan Safran Foer into the best-seller list and the literary public’s consciousness. Book clubs read it; well-thumbed copies made their way onto bookshelves.
“It was exciting to hear a new young literary voice,” recalls Ensemble’s Jonathan Fox, who is bringing Simon Block’s stage adaptation to the New Vic this week. “It is this odd combination of a specific kind of humor and an inventiveness in the storytelling technique.” On top of that, the narrative about returning to the old country in search of personal history is always a popular one.
Then came the movie version with Elijah Wood in 2005, which, Hollywood being Hollywood, streamlined the narratives of the novel into one that focused on its bankable star. Fox believes the play serves as a corrective.
“The novel has three different narrative strings intertwining, and the stage adaptation manages to capture all of them.”
In the novel, Jonathan (the autobiographical stand-in for the author, here played by Jeremy Kahn) travels to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis–basically the woman to whom he owes his existence. Knowing nothing of the Ukraine, he hires a young man, Alex (Matt Wolpe, last seen in The Liar) and his grandfather (Adrian Sparks), along with a flatulent dog named Sammy Davis Jr. to be his guide. Foer’s novel also steps away from the road-trip narrative to provide the backstory of the region and the labor camps during the war, narrated by Alex.
While Anne Gee Byrd plays the important role of the grandmother, it is Emily Goglia, who last appeared in Ensemble’s Husbands and Wives, who takes on the majority of the female roles. In playing people from the present and past, Goglia helps cement the ties between Jonathan’s journey and his grandfather’s.
For the role of Jonathan, Fox turned to Jeremy Kahn, who he had seen already play the role in a production at Aurora Theater in Berkeley last year.
“Even though we are approaching the play in a different way than they did, he was very open to revisiting the character and production,” Fox says. “Plus he really looks like Jonathan Foer.”
“It’s been really interesting to revisit a character with a different cast and production,” Kahn says. “(The play) was still fresh in my mind and body. And I still have these latent impulses to replicate things from that production that I realize were very specific to that room and aren’t useful to me here. There’s been a little bit of rewiring to my brain.”
Like Fox, Kahn stresses that he is not necessarily the central character.
“In truth he’s one of three heroes in the book,” he says, “And Foer even says about the character, I start as the hero and end up the fool. And that Alex starts off as the fool and ends up the hero. Foer is spot on about that.”