How do you take one of pop culture’s most site-specific nature narratives (where an actual river plays a role, no less) and transform it within a round black-box theater space? James Dickey’s Deliverance, the latest foray into the unstageable-turned-credible for the award-winning Godlight Theatre Company, proves to further this Off Broadway troupe’s knack for challenging the boundaries of adaptation, even if in the end it doesn’t quite unsettle you as much as you’d expect.
In a smart move, the creators base the play less on John Boorman’s 1972 film, which made supreme manly men of Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, than on Dickey’s 1970 novel, right down to the title. (You get a much earthier, different ”Dueling Banjos” here.) The story, though, is the same: A divergent quartet of men decide to take a Southern sojourn via canoes through some dangerous backwoods territory, and end up prey to the locals after the aborted capture of two of the quartet.
The cast is committed and strong, though Jarrod Zayas fails to really rattle us as the portly and unfortunately abused Bobby. (And yes, the character’s harrowing rape scene is present—about two feet away from the front row, to be exact—though it’s far less graphic and pig-squeal-heavy as the film’s version).
While Godlight is best known for tackling sprawling and seam-bursting material—they’ve previously adapted the works of George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut—the troupe seems a bit stymied by Dickey’s simple, gripping tale which calls for more concentrated storytelling. The production also stints on subtext, so tension inevitably seeps out once the story’s cat-and-mouse play begins to dominate.
Still, director Joe Tantalo and his superb crew of technicians, whose lighting and sound ingenuity is a show unto itself, keep Deliverance from ever threatening to capsize. B