Confining Roberto Bolaño’s ‘2666’ to the Stage

0312429215.01.LZZZZZZZNathaniel Popkin at The Millions:

Reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, or perhaps any masterwork of its scope, like War and Peace, one experiences a sequence of intellectual, emotional, and bodily responses. They are, at least in part:

Wonder at the impossible genius of the author, who can sense, with panopticon vision, the authentic truths of many worlds, and give voice to them, as if a ventriloquist or an interpreter of dreams;

Thirst for more of those worlds and the words to describe them, words swallowed as quickly and desperately as they can be provided;

Laughter at the absurdity of human desire and failure, rendered in deadpan brilliance and sly humor; and

Melancholy that settles in as sweet sickness of mind and body, the very pain of conscious life, the splendor and the terror.

“Few other contemporary novels had ever involved me so completely,” says director Robert Falls, a Tony Award-winner who is artistic director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. He read 2666 inNatasha Wimmer’s English translation as soon as FSG put it out in 2008 and, seduced, began working on a stage adaptation.

Eight years later, the play 2666, which Falls adapted and directed with Goodman’s playwright-in-residence, Seth Bockley, is on stage in Goodman’s blackbox, in a five-and-a-half hour production. The play thrills — indeed producing wonder, thirst, laughter, and melancholy — when Falls and Bockley trust themselves as interpreters, like Bolaño, of conflicted and contradictory reality. When they forget, pigeonholing characters into cartoons Bolaño never intended, the show becomes exhausting. By the end, after almost a quarter day, one is merely thrilled to move again and then to consider sleep.

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