Friday, July 22, 2016

Adaptor's Note - The Iron Heel

The adaptor's note for my production of The Iron Heel, opening July 28:

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain supposedly said. More accurately that quote belongs to our collective unconscious. It’s an idea that sounded so true it had to be put in the mouth of one our most important satirists. The Iron Heel, which many consider the first modern dystopia, is also a satire of sorts—like many dystopias, it is an exaggerated portrayal of our society, of Jack London’s America. It was written in 1908, and it was science fiction when it was written, although certain incidents have the ring of historical fact. It predicts World War One, Pearl Harbor, the stock market crash, even the term “the 99 percent” (though, awkwardly, here, it would be the 99.1%, with London preferring mathematical accuracy to pithiness). In many ways, it predicts the dictatorships that will arise throughout the 20th Century. One of the novel’s fans, Leon Trotsky, who rightfully called it “prophetic” (when reviewing it in the journal Art & Revolution) might have been wise to heed its warnings. But more importantly, it presented a distorted mirror to reality, distorted quite deliberately by socialist propaganda. London was a Marxist, and he openly stated that propaganda was his purpose. Thus, though there is a clear connection between his prose and that of Hemingway and Orwell after him, I prefer to make the connection to Brecht’s political satires, theatrical parables calculated to outrage the audience about the consequences of unvarnished capitalism. Like Brecht, my adaptation is consciously theatrical, though it reduces the theatricality to costumed actors, words, and music—folk songs written mostly after London died, but during the time in which his story is set. It is a show built to travel and reach multiple communities, rather than to dwell in a single theater. It is a show whose naked purpose is to examine political issues, couching them in a story. London’s novel is a fascinating historical text, but of course my deeper interest in it is the way in which the American society of a century ago rhymes so closely with so many of the issues we face in this most fraught political season. It is about an election between a socialist and an oligarch, shaped by terrorism. It would be too simplistic to say the oligarch is Trump and the socialist is Sanders…or that the Democrat is Clinton. The world isn’t repeating, not quite, our world has changed since London died, exactly one hundred years ago. But the rhymes…they are everywhere.