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“A vamp.” A man made up like puppeteer’s dummy; a doe eyed, Judy Garland type in a tilted bower hat; a young English couple—they’re just friends—leaning intently toward each other in conversation on a chaise longue; a writer wandering the streets of pre-war Berlin. Romanticized images accompany the string of adaptations based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1945 novel “The Berlin Stories.” But really Isherwood’s novel, John Van Druten’s play “I Am a Camera“(1951), John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical “Cabaret” (1966), and Bob Fosse’s film of the same name (1972) feature a herd of black sheep: single women, amateur sex-workers, and queer men, struggling to exist as they are. My joint senior project in the Theatre and Performance and Literature Divisions shows the steps by which who these people are became how we see them now. With my own adaptation, “AnEvening at the Kit Kat Klub,” produced in the Luma Theatre, I add my name to the list of adaptors of Isherwood’s work and of actresses to portray Sally Bowles. Our adaptation celebrates the otherness that is persecuted outside the Klub’s walls and highlights the by bystanders who forgo moral responsibility in a culture of growing hate that parallels our own.
Drawing on my own adaptation, the range of adaptations that precede it, and critical responses to those adaptations, my lit project asks: What about a particular moment in time calls for the adaptation of a particular work? The 1930s and 40s saw various installments of Isherwood’s tales that would later constitute “The Berlin Stories”in which the protagonist, based on and named after the author, navigates and documents Berlin’s thriving gay sub-culture amid the rise of the Third Reich. Critical responses ranged from bemused voyeurism to outrage at Isherwood’s apparent failure to address the rise of Nazism with suitable solemnity. John Van Druten’s 1951 stage adaptation, focuses Sally Bowles’s innocent promiscuity while the unusual-ness of her relationship to Christopher Isherwood reads as a code for his unspoken gayness. The absence of gayness in Van Druten’s play parallels the absence of gayness in its criticism. Out of the 1960s and 70s, the musical and film adaptations of Isherwood’s work highlight sexual exploration in a post-sexual revolution world. I argue that despite its criticism, Isherwood’s text de-constructs the notion that politics must be explicit protest. Rather, his complex and sympathetic portrayal of marginalized people is itself a form of radical protest. Each of Isherwood’s adaptors restyles Isherwood’s implicit political stance to fit their respective eras.
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Young, Melina Drake, "Camera Obscura: Exposing, Framing, and Staging the Implicit Politics of Christopher Isherwood and the Various Adaptations of his Work" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 294.