Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dennis Lehane's Coronado

After seeing his name appear time and time again as one of the best mystery writers, I finally sat down with Dennis Lehane’s collection Coronado. I expected to like it, seeing as I enjoyed the movie Mystic River that is based on one of his novels, and like any collection some of the stories worked better than others. But what I was enamored with is the eponymous play and the story it was based on.

Earlier this year when studying Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, I learned that the play h
ad its origin with a short story he had written several years earlier. Though I didn’t have much time to really ponder the connection, I did read the story and it is something I would like to get back to one day. In ‘Until Gwen,’ Lehane tells the story of a young man who has just been released from prison. He is picked up by his criminal father, one of the most reprehensible and psychopathic characters I’ve ever encountered, who is interested to find where his son hid a large diamond that they stole. Told in second person, the story is paced quite well and is a fascinating study of a young man who has been betrayed by the father who has twisted his life.

‘Coronado’ is the story translated into a two-act play. It begins in a bar with the father and son having a very similar discussion as they do at the start of the story. Yet in the bar are two other couples, seemingly disconnected: one involves a middle aged woman who is meeting her psychiatrist for a drink, the other a young woman and man who plot to kill the woman’s husband so they can be together. As the play progresses, we realize slowly that each of these couples’ stories relate much more closely than we were lead to believe at the start, and rather than occurring somewhat simultaneously, the occur spread out over a great length of time, albeit in the same bar.

I suppose what I find so delightful about this play is the way he truly changes the way the narrative works to suit the different medium. Too often I have seen plays directly translated to television, or novels like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men that are nearly direct adaptations of the prose. It just ever seems to work that well, though I guess Steinbeck did okay. But different mediums require a different method of storytelling; Lehane captures the essence of his very good story, yet translates and expands it to work well on a stage.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a play likely to be performed here anytime soon. After reading the script, I would like to see how a director and stage designer would approach the first act, how the different tables in the bar would be arranged. However, these concerns not applicable to a review of the material here.

The other four stories mostly work, especially the opening novella ‘Running Out of Dog.’ The only one to come up short in the Kafkaesque ‘ICU,’ that seems more an exercise in imitating the Austrian than a successful attempt at a story. But that shouldn’t top you from reading this collection if you are interested in dipping a toe into Lehane’s work. I’ll likely be picking up one of his novels in the near future.

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