The first major U.S. stage adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is coming to a theatre in Cincinnati early next year. Though it has previously hit the stage in the United Kingdom, Know Theatre seems to have the first large-scale performance run of the speculative, dystopian novel in this country. If you're in Cincinnati or can reasonably get there this winter — January 23 until February 21, to be exact — there aren't enough exclamation points in the world to add to "GO!" And it seems like the perfect holiday gift for your favorite feminists and literature-lovers in your life. Hell, gift it to yourself if you can.
The Handmaid's Tale has been at the top of feminist reading lists since its publication in 1985. And though it's nearly three decades old, it still feels just as resonant to society today. Atwood's iconic novel is set in a near-future America, where a Christian theocracy has overthrown the U.S. democratic government. Under this new rule, women are stripped of their rights and forced into one of six "legitimate" groups: Wives of high-ranking officials or citizens; Daughters of the ruling class; Aunts, who monitor the handmaids; Marthas, who are older, infertile women subjected to a life of servitude; Econowives, wifes of the low-ranking class who handle domestic duties; and Handmaids, fertile women whose role is to bear children in place of Wives. The novel follows the life of handmaid Offred (literally, "Of Fred," the husband), through her duties and as she becomes aware of a resistance movement against the oppressive regime.
Atwood's book is highly decorated. It won the 1985 Governor General's Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and it was nominated for the Booker Prize, Nebula Award, and Prometheus Award.
The Handmaid's Tale was adapted for the Cincinnati stage by local Joe Stollenwerk, and it will be directed by Brian Isaac Phillips. Stollenwerk, as reported by Broadway World, initially clocked his adaptation at a whopping six hours. But he has since cut, and he described his process:
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in a course on feminism and utopia/dystopia in literature in 2002. This was in the wake of 9/11 and it seemed that our country might all too easily be teetering on the brink of something reminiscent of Gilead from this novel. I immediately began thinking about turning it into a play… I cut, and cut, and cut, always trying to be mindful that I wanted to preserve the plot and characters but also the social/political commentary as well as the marvelous language Atwood employs.
This isn't the first time Atwood's novel has been adapted — which is no surprise considering its prominence in the literary world. There was a movie adaptation that starred the late Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, the wife, and Robert Duvall as Fred in 1990. In 2000, it was both a BBC Radio performance and an opera, beginning in Copenhagen. Last year, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet turned it into a ballet.
This also isn't the first news of an Atwood adaptation this year. Over the summer, it was reported that Atwood's Maddaddam futuristic book trilogy is being turned into a TV show by HBO.
More Margaret off the page? Yes, please.