Entertainment » Theatre

Run, Rabbit! :: Igor Golyak on the Magic and Mystery of 'Edward Tulane'

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jan 18, 2019

In Kate DiCamillo's 2006 children's book "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," a porcelain rabbit - the book's title character - is the favorite plaything of a young girl. Edward accepts her adoration, but returns none of her affection; then, disastrously, he's lost and ends up on a journey that takes him to the ocean's floor, to a garbage dump, and to places of brokenness and redemption where he learns the value of love.

Needham's Arlekin Players have taken the story up and turned it into an original stage adaption, now in the midst of its run (and continuing through March 3). Arlekin Players Artistic Director Igor Golyak chats with EDGE about the book, the stage version, their award-winning design work, and the troupe's vision of the story. Summed up in a single word: Adorbs! Catch this while you can!

EDGE: The Arlekin Players' original play is based on the 2006 novel by Kate DiCamillo. What makes this story a good fit for Arlekin Players?

Igor Golyak: As part of our New England developing strategy we want to focus on children's stories, and particularly the American children of Russian parents. A lot of children have read the book in school. The idea we were working on [stems from] the fact that a lot of times there's this communication [problem] in immigrant families where the children speak English very well, and it's their native tongue, whereas the parents — and especially the grandparents — have trouble understanding the children, and vice versa. And it's not only a language barrier it's also a cultural barrier, where the grandparents have grown up in a different culture and it's sometimes difficult to understand the ways of the new land.

This story is about finding this connection and finding love. The way we adapted it, the story starts with a grandmother and a child not wanting to go to sleep. The child doesn't want to go to sleep; the grandmother is trying to put the child to bed; they negotiate and come to a conclusion that the grandmother's going to tell her a story about the rabbit. Through the story, the child and the grandmother find the connection to each other through Edwards' discovery of love that is not necessarily through language; it's through relationship.

EDGE: "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" has been adapted for the stage before, by Dwayne Hartford. But it sounds like a new adaptation really was necessary to tell the story the way you envisioned it.

Igor Golyak: Correct, exactly, The journey of finding connection and finding connection to the ones that you love — what does it mean to love? What does it mean to share love? What does it mean to give love, and not just receive? As you put it, we adapted it [t address] a point of pain for the immigrant community.

EDGE: Alexander Huh adapts and directs the play. How did he become involved in the project?

Igor Golyak: The original idea that I just described was one of the things I wanted to do this season. This is a director that I trust; we went to the same school in Moscow, and I invited him to come and direct the show and work on the adaptation.

EDGE: This adaptation presents the play is in Russian as well as English. How do you manage this feat?

Igor Golyak: It's like everyone in the audience is kind of going to bed at the beginning, except for the girl that's not going to bed and wants to hear a fairy tale. But the problem is, the grandmother doesn't speak English, and the girl's toys don't speak Russian, so she has to translate the story for her toys. So the story is being translated... that's the initial kind of event for the translation.

EDGE: Was it a challenge to translate the text?

Igor Golyak: I wouldn't say it was a challenge to translate the text, but it was a huge challenge to rehearse. Eric Andrew, the actor playing the main character of Edward Tulane, speaks only English. Everyone else on the set speaks Russian, and Alexander doesn't speak English. It was very, very difficult to rehearse, just logistically. They needed to understand each other on a molecular, almost, level. The goals of the scenes are established and then translated to the American actor, but then translated back from the American actor to the Russian director. They needed to build those bridges of connection without language. It was difficult, but I think the ultimate bridge has been built, and that's why the show is very, very magical.

EDGE: That really is an adventure, and it sounds like it fits right into the idea for what you wanted to do with the play.

Igor Golyak: Yes, it is absolutely a miraculous adventure, We thought that we would never finish this project It was excruciatingly difficult because it takes such an additional amount of time — everything takes twice more time. But ultimately the adventure it on!

EDGE: Speaking of Eric Andrew, what qualities did he bring that made him the right fit for the role of Edward Tulane?

Igor Golyak: I think Eric as a person is a big child at heart. He's a tall male with a red head, and he looks very open and naïve. He's very playful. I think these are the qualities that are important to this character once he opens to love.

EDGE: In the book, Edward Tulane is vain and cold-hearted. Does Eric capture those qualities as well?

Igor Golyak: Edward Tulane starts out as very vain and cold-hearted, but he needs to accept this adventure of life and take it in and be able to change. I think it's easier to play cold-heartedness than sincere openness. Eric's eyes are very open and naïve — I think that's the most important quality we were looking for.

EDGE: Arlekin Players won at the Elliot Norton Awards last year for Outstanding Design for your production of "Dead Man's Diary." What is the design like for "Edward Tulane?"

Igor Golyak: Oh my god, the design is unbelievable! It's not my production, but I am completely in love with the design of the show. The audience walks in and there's usually a shock because it's like a fairy tale of white beds on a yellow floor. The audience is asked to come wearing pajamas, and they are asked to sit on a bed. They walk into this magical room full of beds, and there's a blanket and it's like a bedtime story. Each bed has a handmade toy rabbit that they hold and hug during the whole show. The most difficult part of this production is letting go of the rabbit at the end of the show!


Igor Golyak: [Some audience members] have said, "I want to buy this rabbit! I will pay anything for this rabbit!" And we can't, unfortunately, because they are handmade in Russia and were sent over here. We have specifically the number of rabbits for each bed. It's the biggest problem we have because not only adults but also kids don't want to separate from the rabbit.

Everyone gets onto their beds and has a blanket. Some people lie down and cover themselves with blankets. And out of nothing things start to appear: Stars are being thrown back and forth to signify love and devotion to somebody. There is a sea that covers the audience over their heads, and they feel like they are under the ocean. People appear out of nowhere, from underneath the beds, like monsters in stories. The action takes place throughout the whole room, and the room is filled with beds.

EDGE: It sounds adorable.

Igor Golyak: I agree with you!


Igor Golyak: I am so excited by it and I am so happy that the director can survive this. He lived on the set. He brought slippers because there was so much work that he had to do — he was painting, he was doing everything! He went home to sleep but he pretty much lived in the studio for a month and a half to put this play on.

EDGE: What else has Arlekin Players got coming up?

Igor Golyak: One thing we are working on is a production that I will be directing called "The Stone." It's a play by a very interesting contemporary playwright whose name is Marius von Mayenburg. He's the head of dramaturgy at Schaubühne Theater in Germany. He's a German playwright, and he's extremely well known right now, and well staged all over Europe. He hasn't been staged very much in the U.S., from my research, so this may be a U.S. premiere — I'm not 100% sure.

Our theater is a lot about identity. When we perform herein the U.S. we are called a Russian theater; when we perform in Russia we are called an American theater. So who we are is unknown — we are some sort of alien. "Resident alien" is a very appropriate name for us! We are trying to understand identity, what does it mean to have an identity and how does it affect who we are? In this play "The Stone," we deal with identity through understanding the identity of the German people of World War II. It's a story about a house. Initially, a Jewish family lives in this house in 1930; then in 1935, they are being thrown out by the Germans and [replaced by a German family].

It's a story about how Germans deal with this identity of the World War II and the identity of the house, and whether they have a house in general. It should really be called "The House," I think! "The Stone" was made to kind of accept the fact that they threw out the Jewish family, and what they did in the World War II [era], but it's really a story about a house and whether these people that lived in this house, different families, have a house in general, as people. "Is this our house?"

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" continues through March 3 at Arlekin Players Theatre in Needham. For tickets and more information go to http://www.arlekinplayers.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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