Food for Thought

THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood, adapted by Dave Carley, directed by Timothy Bond, with Jillian Fargey, Lynne Cormack, Darren.

THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood, adapted by Dave Carley, directed by Timothy Bond, with Jillian Fargey, Lynne Cormack, Darren Keay, Alec McClure, Tara Samuel, Todd Talbot and Michael Rubenfeld. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, February 21) and runs to March 16, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75, limited Monday pwyc and same-day half-price rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN

playwright dave carley didn’t flinch when Margaret Atwood gave him permission to adapt her classic novel The Edible Woman.”The trick in adapting is not to let a sense of reverence overcome my dramatic skills. It’s a balancing act,” says the soft-spoken Carley, who adapted the novel for a 1996 CBC radio version and now has developed a stage piece.

“The bottom line is that I know it’s an iconic book for lots of people.”

The Edible Woman, Atwood’s first novel and a huge hit when it appeared in 1969, follows Marian, a young Toronto woman with a job, a fiance and a hopeful future until she finds she can’t eat and perceives parts of her body dissolving.

“When I read it as an undergrad, I remember not liking it very much,” says Carley, speaking over the din of a crowded cafe. “I didn’t understand its irony and nor quite grasp its issues.

“And I guess I also found Duncan” — the inscrutable, ironing-fixated grad student who becomes involved with Marian — “who was sinking in a sea of footnotes, too close to home.”

Rereading it years later while searching for CBC projects — Carley is script editor for radio arts and entertainment, with a focus on radio drama — he realized how prescient it was about feminism as well as today’s consumer society.

“Now I understand its irony — Marian’s only weapon as she loses her grip on reality — and Duncan has become one of the funniest citizens of Canadian literature.”

Given its ability to present internal monologues, radio drama seemed the ideal format for a novel that spends much of its time in the central character’s mind. Giving voice to those internal thoughts was a challenge in the stage adaptation, as was Marian’s shift from first to third person in the way she sees and talks about herself.

“It’s still a gut-wrenching tale for women between 40 and 80, because it’s their story,” notes Carley over his bagel sandwich. “I was surprised when we first staged it, down at the University of Michigan, that the 20-something women in the cast didn’t understand Marian’s line that marriage meant she’d have to give up her job.

“It’s important to remind people that such reasoning was a given not that long ago.”

Expert at weaving together various narrative strands and presenting them with pungent humour, Carley is the author of some dozen original scripts, among them several that focus on Ashburnham, a version of Carley’s home town of Peterborough.

He’s also brought his skills to various adaptations, both for the radio and the stage, including tales by Julio Cortazar (Into) and Canadian writer Helen Weinzweig (A View From The Roof). There’s a extra piquant edge to these pieces, a turn that surprises even those who know the originals.

“I take on a special challenge when I reshape someone else’s work,” Carley acknowledges with a winning smile. “There’s a responsibility both to the author and to my audience. It’s a double whammy.

“But then there’s the great reward of getting into these amazing brains and crawling around there. They are great and terrible places, but lots of fun.” theatre preview

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