If someone had told me that the best live adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars would be a play, I would not have believed it. And yet there seems there are still some small miracles in this world, like this adaptation crafted in 2006. It was conceived by Steve Schroer from Hardcover Theater in Minneapolis. The fiming of the play took place in the presence of quite a hard-edged audience, namely Edgar Rice Burroughs fans!
This work of art is a true ode to the power of suggestion of the theater, as it can not be limited to the broad comedies, or the painful tragedies that are generally associated with it. The play takes place in just one set, a rocky floor, three rocks, and a painted canvas for a background. The Green Martians, as you can see on the cover, are actors with a pole on which is sticked the head of their alien character. The Red Martians, to evoke the skin color of their people, simply wear a half-red mask that reveals the lower part of their face and their eyes. The fighting is mimed, since the actors do not even have fake swords at their disposal.
The end product could be laughable and even plainly disastrous (yes, Asylum's Princess of Mars, I'm looking at you), but the actors, against all odds, sell the play quite brilliantly, playing their characters very straight, excelling in "make believe". Jami Rassmussen, who plays John Carter, brings great physicality and dignity to his role, explaining events to the audience (as in the book, since it was written in first person mode), and truly embodiyng his character. Amber Swanson is also excellent as Dejah Thoris, and knows how to transmit the strength of her character, which does not reside in her abilities to fight, but in her determination to face adversity. All actors are remarkable in their parts. Those who play the Green Martians, with their odd gestures and postures, manage to convey the idea of a truly alien behavior without making them ridicule. Woola is as endearing as in the book. The real surprise comes from the character of Sab Than. In Burroughs' book he is really devoid of any striking feature, but actor Nathaniel Churchill delivers a rather whimsical and lively performance, backed up by a character created from scratch, his second in command in a way, who brings some more laughs for the audience. The limit of ridicule is almost reached when, to simulate a pursuit in flying machines, the actors equip themselves with poles they hold horizontally, with their ship hanging on the end of the stick. But once the surprise has passed, we even accept this unique scenic innovation!
As for the changes from the book, the character of Sarkoja, the antagonistic Green Martian, does not appear. The father / daughter relationship between Tars Tarkas and Sola is not mentioned. That's because of this relationship in the book that Tars Tarkas decides to kill Tal Hajus, his superior in the tribe of the Tharks, and that's when he becomes their leader. In the play, Tars Tarkas defies the leader of the rival Warhoons tribe first, killing him (well, sort of) and becoming the leader of the Warhoons, thus in a way uniting the Tharks and the Warhoons. He then challenges Tal Hajus and kills him, becoming the undisputed leader of both tribes. Kantos Kan, as in the book, promises John Carter to kill Sab Than for him so that Carter can marry Dejah Thoris, but in the play, he keeps his promise! In the book, Kantos Kan is imprisoned by the Zodangans and Sab Than is killed by an anonymous hand during the final battle. In fact, Kantos Kan even becomes the Jeddak (leader) of Zodanga because he killed its former ruler! Under his benevolent reign, Zodanga joins the community now formed by red men and green men. In fact, Steve Schroer gives here a sort of ending to the story very much like the one in the third book, where all the known peoples end up united. But the most shocking change probably, for the ears of a Burroughs purist, is to hear Dejah's father named Tardos Kosis! In the novel, Dejah's father is Mors Kajak, her grandfather is Tardos Mors, and Than Kosis is Sab Than's father!
The bittersweet ending of the novel is respected. Carter returns to Earth for ten long years, not knowing if Dejah Thoris and his son have survived.
Watching this play is quite an impressive experience for someone who, like me, does not have a great interest in the art of stage play. It revealed in me a whole new ability level of suspension of disbelief I didn't suspect even existed. In any case, it demonstrates that a more direct adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' writings is not only viable, but desirable!
If you are interested and want to order this zone-free DVD, please contact Steve Schroer at this email address: buttonmolder@gmail .com. It will cost you 24$ sent by Paypal to this address ($ 20 for DVD + $ 4 shipping), and he will send you the disc quite fast. For buyers abroad, you have the option to be sent the disc only, protected in a rigid cardboard, with a back cover and a cover (as you can see in the photo below). You will only have to provide a CD empty box to insert them in. With the CD box, the shipping costs climb to $ 15 (so a total of $ 35). I sent the money last Monday, December the 3rd, and I received it today in France, Saturday, December the 8th, so the delivery was super fast! In addition to the show which is 83 minutes long, the DVD contains an interview with actors about twenty minutes long, and a trailer.