Is there ever a good time to rewrite an older work; applying lessons learned to a past project in the hopes of reinvigorating it for contemporary audiences? It’s a quandary every writer faces at some point in his or her career.
The greatest example of this would be Tennessee Williams, who spent the better part of his later years rewriting earlier successes, in the hopes of bringing something to them that he might have missed as a younger playwright. The merits of those resulting efforts have been debated for decades.
Tony and Obie Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff is hoping to side-step such a debate with a much anticipated revision of his very first play, entitled ‘The Wager Redux.’ He insists there won’t be any scenes deleted or alternate endings, just a little more texture to firm up what is already considered to be a powerful stageplay and present a more well-rounded cast of characters.
Originally written in 1966 as an entry to the One Act Play Festival, organized by the fledgling Las Cruces Community Theatre, The Wager has a special place in Medoff’s heart. Not only was it the very first play he’d ever written, it was ground zero for the creation of what has been a highly successful and fruitful career.
“I have long maintained that there are certain places in the world we pass through, where at certain times, just the right people bump into each other and remarkable things happen,” he said. “That’s what happened here. I wrote ‘The Wager’ because somebody in the NMSU English department, where I was a young instructor, said ‘why don’t you write a play and we’ll put it on.’ They were heavily involved in this new theatre in town, called Las Cruces Community Theater. Those people very positively influenced my entire life. They completely changed my world.”
Which is why Medoff will stage ‘The Wager Redux’ during the first two weekends in September, at the theater that gave him his start. His reasons for doing so are both personal and genuinely sagacious.
“Over the years it’s been very popular, but I’ve always felt that the female character is impossible to play because the playwright really didn’t know how to write a woman at that time,” he said. “My son-in-law Ross Marks has been pestering me for 20 years to rewrite it so he could direct it. Finally, this summer, I decided I’d take a whack at it. I started working on it and I actually got really excited about it. I’m still excited about it.”
Medoff believes that he wrote his first solid female character when he created Sarah Norman for ‘Children of a Lesser God.’ “By that time I’d been radically feminized by a wife and three daughters,” he said. Since that time, his work has included well-rounded female characters who are every bit as important, sometimes more so, than the male characters. Given the opportunity, then, to rectify what he saw as an undervaluation of his very first female character, he set out to give Honor Stevens her due.
‘The Wager Redux’ features local talents Brandon Brown, Jessica Medoff Bunchman, Patrick Payne and Eric Young in a story described as “a wager between a college football coach and his neighbor, an English professor with machine-gun verbal skills, that sets off a series of events involving a cerebral Microbiology professor and his statistician wife, who is not at all what the three men presume her to be.” It’s that final part of the synopsis that is the most telling, but it isn’t the whole story.
As originally presented, the characters were all college students, baiting each other in a game of one-upmanship fueled in part by youthful ennui and in larger part by an almost maniacal attempt to goad each other to higher acts of cruelty. This time around, Medoff has made the characters a little older, in order to give them a deeper foundation “in terms of what their past experiences — their life experiences — were.” It’s a subtle change, but one that he hopes will enrich the proceedings.
“They really just went from their late 20s to their early to mid 30s,” he said. “In the original they were in graduate school and now three of them are young teachers at a university and one is a football coach. It’s slightly altered, but it did allow me to broaden my playing field a little bit. The main thing is the woman. I felt like I gave her a very clichéd, button-holed space when I wrote her originally and really just used her as a foil for the three guys to be clever. Now I think I’m much closer to a play in which all four characters are totally engaged in a drama together.”
The result could very well spell new success for the award-winning playwright’s freshman achievement, but don’t expect it to become a trend. Though he claims to have gotten a “kick” out of reworking ‘The Wager,’ he’s far too busy working on newer projects to sit down with another past success.
“I do not have the remotest desire to do this again,” he said. “People have been asking me for years if I’m going to write a sequel to ‘Children of a Lesser God.’ They’ve offered me money. My answer is no. I have all sorts of new things I’m working on. Ross and I are trying to fund a documentary about mental illness. My daughter Jessica is directing a new play of mine at the University of New Orleans in November. I’m directing ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ here with Lonnie Kline and the symphony. Then I’m directing Tom Smith’s new play ‘Aunt Raini’ in the Medoff theatre in March, which has been very exciting.”
All of which means, if you’re awaiting an announcement for When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder Redux, it’s pretty safe to say all bets are off.
The Wager Redux will run Thursday thru Sunday, Sept. 5 – 8, 2013 then again the following weekend, Sept. 12 – 15. Start times are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Thursday, Sept. 5 will be Gala Night, in which a light supper and refreshments with the cast will be presented after the show, catered by Andeles Mexican Restaurant and included in the price of the evening’s ticket. Tickets are $10 for adults; $9 for seniors, students and military; $7 for children six and under. For more information, visit http://www.lcctnm.org or call 523-1200.
This article originally appeared in Arts & Entertainment section of the August 30, 2013 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin. All rights reserved.