Stage to screen
Five great adaptations
Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, and Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” (1951)
Filmmakers have been mining the Broadway boards since the dawn of cinema, from beloved musicals like “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story” to classic dramas and comedies by Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), Neil Simon (“Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple”) and more.
Beyond the big titles that have endured, smaller efforts have also brought the power of live theatre to the movie theater.
Here are four lesser-known plays-turned-movies worth seeking out, plus a landmark fifth that still sets the standard for what a stage-to-screen adaptation should be: an acting showcase from a distinctive writer’s voice, elevated by the intimate language of film.
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Following the death of their son, a couple grieves in polar opposite ways, including the wife’s connection with an unexpected confidante. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell and adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his play, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart deliver gut-wrenching but hopeful performances. Dianne Wiest provides poignant supporting work, as does Miles Teller in his breakout role.
The daughter of a legendary, recently deceased mathematician may have inherited his brilliance and dementia. The discovery of a lost proof will cause her to either be consumed by her neurosis or overcome it. Gwyneth Paltrow reunites with “Shakespeare In Love” director John Madden for the kind of performance that makes you wish she’d stop gooping and keep acting. Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis, and Anthony Hopkins co-star in this riveting adaptation of David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play.
The Winslow Boy (1999)
Not the David Mamet movie anyone was expecting. The “Glengarry Glen Ross” playwright adapted this G-rated period piece inspired by the pre-WWI true story of a British prep student accused of theft, and his family’s legal battle to defend his—and their—honor. From Terence Rattigan’s play, it’s about the virtues of fighting for truth even when justice seems impossible. In the words of Jeremy Northam’s lawyer: “Let right be done.”
Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)
The “My Dinner With André” trio of director Louis Malle, Wallace Shawn, and André Gregory reunite for this “rehearsal” of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” Set in an abandoned Broadway theatre, it’s a unique stripped-down staging that provides true acting showcases. Co-starring a young Julianne Moore, this is a must-see experiment for theatre nerds.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Elia Kazan brought Tennessee Williams’ play, and Marlon Brando, to the big screen in a production that changed theatre and cinema forever. A tragic melodrama of cruel masculinity destroying fragile femininity, “Streetcar” stars Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter—all of whom won Oscars. Kazan and Brando would have to wait three years for theirs, for “On The Waterfront.”