Mike Harvey, playing the lead character in the Griffin Theater’s production of Little Brother. Photo: Michael Brosilow.
Little Brother, the futuristic tale of teen-techno-revolution in a dystopian San Francisco by journalist/Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow, has done well since its release last May by Tor Teen. It received excellent reviews, has sold 90,000 copies to date, was nominated for a Hugo Award in the best new novel category, and movie rights were recently optioned to producer Don Murphy (Transformers; Natural Born Killers).
Now Little Brother has been adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Griffin Theatre Company, from the same artistic group that adapted Neil Gaiman’s Stardust for the stage in 2005. The final production of the Griffin’s 20th anniversary season, Little Brother made its world premiere in the Windy City before a full house at the Athenaeum Theatre this past Sunday afternoon.
Performances will be held at the 80-seat Athenaeum Thursday evenings through Sunday afternoons until July 19, with the play’s penultimate weekend coinciding with the ALA’s convention in Chicago July 9—15. Doctorow, who was consulted by co-artistic director William Massolia as he adapted the novel to the script, intends to attend performances that same weekend.
Mike Harvey as Marcus, Jorge Silva as Jolu, Denice Lee as Vanessa, Darren Meyers as Darryl.
Little Brother is an action-packed thriller with a plot seemingly ripped from today's headlines, that did not transfer easily from the page to the stage, Massolia told Children's Bookshelf. Marcus Yallow, a 17-year-old computer hacker who goes by the handle “M1K3Y,” uses his high-tech know-how and street smarts to lead a techno-revolution against the Department of Homeland Security, which has spiraled out of control in the wake of a terrorist attack on the San Francisco Bay Area, transforming San Francisco into a police state.
"It's never easy to do an adaptation; you have to re-create the world inside the book," Massolia said. "There were some scenes we were especially concerned about making work—the attack scene in the beginning and the waterboarding scene." Ascribing the effectiveness of these two scenes in particular to the expertise of the fight choreographer and the set designer, Massolia added, "You just have to be inventive in the same way as in movies to create the effects, but you have to do it with a much smaller budget."
Kevin Gladish and Jennifer Lowe as Marcus's parents and Mike Harvey as Marcus.
Little Brother, which already has been nominated for Joseph Jefferson awards for excellence in Chicago theatre, received mixed reviews from local media. The Chicago Tribune described the production as “an effective and engaging polemic, replete with an optimistic band of change-the-world teens who update an old slogan to ‘Don't Trust Anyone Over 25.’ And for the first act or so, Dorothy Milne's production, staged with spirit, energy and imagination,... surely captures the militaristic tenor of the Orwellian times that Doctorow conjures up.”
“But,” the Tribune added, “the forces of the opposition are mostly simplistic, cliched and dense, and the action ultimately gets trapped in a variety of prosaic little scenes that remove the energy that's so affecting in the early moments before everything blows up.”
In other reviews, the Chicago Sun-Times called Little Brother a “deftly realized” and a “zesty” production, a “combination civics class and techno thriller for all the adolescents (and other Xbox fanatics) of this world.” Time Out Chicago declared that “Massolia’s adaptation subtly, efficiently informs an audience that may be unfamiliar with tech topics like RFIDs and open-source operating systems,” saying that “Doctorow raises many worthy points about the relationship between our safeties and our freedoms.”
“We just hope the subject matter of Little Brother starts a dialogue,” says Dot Lin, publicity manager at Tor/Forge, who intends to attend a performance of Little Brother during ALA. “First the Obama election last year, now the Iranian elections. The revolution may not be televised on CNN, but at least young people can Twitter about it.”
Tickets for Little Brother range between $15-$25, and can be obtained by calling the Athenaeum Theatre at (800) 982-2787, or by ordering online.