Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Light as a Feather

 Original Artwork by Amy Hutcheson

We just posted our adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's satirical fable "Feathertop." I know, I know, Hawthorne. He's right up there with Melville and Dostoyevsky on the list of authors that every student hates to read.

But give "Feathertop" a chance. It's not nearly as dreary as, say, The Scarlet Letter (which I confess to liking as well). In fact, for a Hawthorne piece, it's downright upbeat. It's got magic and witchcraft, an invisible demon who lights pipes, a lot of humor (some subtle, some not), and a truly poignant ending. Yes, it's Hawthorne, but it doesn't feel like homework.

You'll notice that we pulled a similar trick with Melville for our very first show, recording the witty, affecting satire "Bartleby the Scrivener." One of the great things about Chatterbox is that we're able to bring works like these to vibrant, entertaining life. They have life on the page, of course. But for those who groan at the very mention of these writers, I hope our adaptations are a pleasant surprise, and suggest the rewards to be found within the original works.

We recorded "Feathertop" at the same time as Robert Louis Stevenson's "Markheim," and I loved the thematic echoes between the two pieces. (Spoiler alert!) In both, the title character ultimately chooses non-existence rather than acceptance of what he is. That sounds awfully bleak, but the key point is that both characters recognize something intolerable in their natures, something flawed but unchangeable, and decide that the only way to escape it is through self-destruction. So there's a certain tragic nobility to their choices -- a kind of redemption. To quote Markheim: "If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down."

For a variety of reasons, "Feathertop" was one of those long-in-gestation shows; it was actually recorded back in April 2010, over the span of about a week. Now that it's finished, I hope the cast and crew enjoys revisiting this strange, funny little parable. And of course I hope you enjoy it as well.

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