By Genevieve Kotz
The human brain is the most complex human organism, and it is also the one we take most for granted.
Christian Scheider and Tucker Marder hope that with their theatrical adaption of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1985 novel, Galápagos at the Parrish Art Museum, perhaps the audience will ponder—even if briefly—what life would be like without one.
“One of the ideas that really made us interested in it is that it’s like a great thought experiment,” Mr. Marder explained. “What would the world be like if humans did not have brains?”
“Or the brains that they do have,” Mr. Scheider interjected.
The two spent the last eight months adapting the novel, which tells the story of a post-apocalyptic group of survivors on the Galápagos Islands who become the progenitors of the new human race. It will be a one-act play with a cast of 26, including Chloe Dirksen, Nick Gregory, Bob Balaban, and a cameo from Sophie the Dog, who plays a finch. Even though the play spans over a million years, no actor will have multiple roles.
“Nature is diverse, so the play should be diverse,” Mr. Scheider explained. He will play the role of Prince Richard, a “bloated homophobic plutocrat.”
The plot centers around Mary Hepburn and James Wait, played by Ms. Dirksen and Mr. Gregory, and later focuses on Adolf and Sigfried von Kleist, played by Spencer Carlson and Madeline Wise, who run a nature cruise ship. However, Mr. Scheider was quick to explain that the play is an ensemble cast, so there really is no main character.
It also has actors playing animals such as the blue-footed booby and the marine iguana. The narrative plot will be broken up by 10 animal interludes, which will tell thinly veiled analogies about what is occurring among the humans, according to Mr. Scheider.
“The basic idea of taking humans and putting them into contexts which are not human can reveal some of the absurdity of what is human,” he explained. “And, also hopefully, some of the things that are good about humans.”
Adapting a novel into a play is a difficult task to begin with, but it is another task entirely with a writer like Kurt Vonnegut. The creative duo both agreed that taking on the book gave them a million opportunities to fail, and yet that was a large part of the appeal.
“You might read this novel and say, ‘Oh this is utterly inadaptable, you’d be an idiot to try to adapt this book,’” Mr. Scheider explained, “which, of course, is like a great chance. There was so many opportunities for spectacular failure, and failure in the best sense.”
“There’s creative and intellectual and social value in somebody in an animal suit attempting to act as an animal and fail,” Mr. Marder noted.
To help get the actors into the animal character, Mr. Marder enlisted Isla Hansen, an artist, to design and create all 16 animal costumes. The costumes range from playful caricatures to wearable puppet suits, although Ms. Hansen said she still made sure that the costumes contained accurate biological information.
“What I’ve tried to do in the costumes is somewhat accurately depict these creatures in the best way that I can imagine a human dressed as one can represent, while taking the liberty to exaggerate certain features that are discussed in the novel and play in relation to what makes this animal unique,” she said.
The play will be the first performance held at the Lichtenstein Theater in the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, an opportunity the two were very thankful for. While there is no stage, Shelby Jackson designed a three-story set of the Bahía de Darwin, the “cruise ship cradle of all mankind.”
The play will feature puppets, physical comedy, video, and ends with a lobster ballet. It will premier on Monday, July 21, at 6 p.m. and play throughout the week.
The pair, who met at Ross High School, also collaborated last year on an adaption of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Murderer.” This year, they were inspired by Isabella Rossellini’s “The Green Porno,” which they saw as questioning the limitations in which society places the boundaries of what is natural or not. They hope to carry a similar theme with this play.
“There’s 9 million species,” Mr. Marder said. “There’s 9 million ways to be.”