This month, theatre company Artistic Fraud will be staging an adaptation of Wayne Johnston’s 1998 bestseller, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture
Centre. Johnston’s novel was shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and Governor General Award the year it was released.
The play is a fictionalized chronicle of Joey Smallwood’s private and public lives. The play, directed by Jillian Keiley, with an original score by jazz artist Patrick Boyle, was adapted for the stage by St. John’s acclaimed playwright Robert Chafe.
This is Chafe’s second adaptation of a fictional work by a local author. His first, Afterimage, was based on a short story by Michael Crummey. “The challenge there was to take an eight-page story and expand it into a detailed and breathing full-length play. With Colony, the process differed insofar as I had a sweeping epic novel of 500 or more pages, then I had to chop, condense, and in many ways, simplify. The challenge became to find the central drive of the story, behind the lush detail that Wayne had provided in the book.”
For Chafe, the spirit of the story is twofold. “There are two strands in the novel that run side by side: the history of Newfoundland in the first half of the 20th century; and the relationship between Smallwood and [fictional journalist Sheilagh] Fielding. The book is, of course, Smallwood’s story, but told through these two lenses, so, I wanted to preserve that. The historical stuff, as always with my plays, falls into the background to provide context and justification, but the real thrust of the action and the emotional content of the play comes at the hands of the relationship story. I really looked at the book as the story of these two people, circling and challenging each other, and drafted my version of the story around that.”
The fictitious Fielding is a caustic newspaper columnist whose personal demons fuel her pursuit of Smallwood on his rise to power.
“She is a champion, and she is a victim. She is such an incredible creation,” says Chafe of Fielding, who will be played by Toronto- based actor Astrid Van Wieren.“ She’s simultaneously funny and tragic. But writing her, line for line, it’s her wit and intelligence. Sharp, acidic, uncompromising. Writing dialogue for her, to hopefully sit seamlessly alongside what Wayne has written, was one of the greatest, and most enjoyable challenges I’ve ever taken on. I love this book. I love Wayne’s version of Smallwood. I love Sheilagh Fielding. Writing dialogue for them was such a joy. I’m really excited to see Colin [Furlong] and Astrid bring them to life, to send them into battle. I’m so happy with all of our casting. I just can’t wait for audiences to see what these ten actors are going to do with this story.”
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, presented by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland,will be at the AAC St. John’s, February 18-21, 2015. For details, go to artsandculturecentre.com.