The play, a rabbit hole of evolving and doubling identities through which Quinn falls, offers a continually shifting reality through the technologically dazzling use of video and projection that has characterized the work of 59 Productions, the company that Mr. Warner founded with Mark Grimmer in 2006. (It’s “frequently jaw-droppingly impressive,” Lyn Gardner wrote in The Guardian after the Manchester premiere, “as one scene folds into the next with dreamlike ease.”)
59 Productions, which comprises animators, designers, architects and videographers, has collaborated extensively with the director Katie Mitchell as well as working on the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, the “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, “An American in Paris” on Broadway and numerous plays, operas and ballets.
While Mr. Warner, 36, had overseen big multimedia projects as well as directed for the German stage with Ms. Mitchell, he had never directed his own play. “It was a huge experiment,’’ he explained at the North London offices of 59 Productions recently. “Brilliantly, no one seemed to question it.”
Mr. Warner said that the company had been gradually working toward formulating its own productions, and that “City of Glass,” which he had read and loved as an adolescent, had stuck with him as an idea.
“We had gotten to a point where something as narratively and thematically complex as this book could be addressed by the architecture-meets-projection elements we use,” he said. He was further convinced when he read the 1994 graphic-novel adaptation of “City of Glass,” by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli.
On a trip to New York in October 2014, Mr. Warner went to see Mr. Auster, who was incredulous at the idea of a play. (In fact, another adaptation, by Untitled Theater Company No. 61, was recently performed in New York.) “He said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to make an animated movie of this?’’’ Mr. Warner recounted. “I said, ‘That’s sort of what we want to do, but with live actors.’ ”
After Mr. Auster consented to the project, Mr. Warner approached Mr. Macmillan, an award-winning playwright with whom he had worked on three of Ms. Mitchell’s productions. In a telephone interview, Mr. Macmillan, whose acclaimed “People, Places & Things” will be staged in October at St. Ann’s Warehouse, said that Mr. Warner had asked him on a train whether he would like to adapt “City of Glass,” adding that it would be impossible.
“I said yes immediately,” Mr. Macmillan said. (He’s already had practice bringing novels to the stage; his adaptation, with Robert Icke, of “1984” will open on Broadway in June.)
Rereading the Auster novel, Mr. Macmillan said he was immediately struck by its exploration of grief. “When I was younger, I felt the formal brilliance of the writing, its total deconstruction of a genre which becomes a philosophical, existential treatise,” he explained. Now that he had become a father, he felt “a connection to the black hole of loss that everything orbits around.”
His central challenge was to find a way to include the narration that dominates the novel. “Fundamentally, past-tense narration is anti-dramatic,” he said. “For it to work, you have to locate the characters, to look at Quinn and see the situations he is in, to find those moments of onstage drama and make sure the narration is legible in those moments.”
To that end, the set designer Jenny Melville came up with a simple yet technically challenging idea. “He is in a room, trapped in a room,” Ms. Melville explained. “The room, and his attempt to leave it, is the story, and that single space, transformed by light and projection had to be both super-realistic and also as if disembodied, nowhere, in his head.”
Through light, sound, projection and the doubling of actors playing Quinn and Paul Auster (a character in the book), Ms. Melville conjures magical transformations. Quinn’s apartment becomes, in turn, Stillman’s grand living room, Grand Central Terminal, a diner, New York streets, an alleyway and Central Park.
While Mr. Warner and Ms. Melville worked on the design, Mr. Macmillan went through drafts of the script, holding workshops with actors and speaking frequently to Mr. Auster, who read all the versions. (He declined this month to talk about the project.) Mr. Warner had acquired the rights to the graphic novel, and Mr. Macmillan said he used it largely as a way to make the narrative visually compelling.
“It was like Christmas morning for a writer,” Mr. Macmillan said. “I didn’t have to solve the stagecraft — location changes, dreams, fantasy. Whereas for everything else I’ve written, you negotiate all that. I don’t know how I’m going to go back now.”
Because 59 Productions is a commercial company, Mr. Warner said the creative team had the resources to dedicate an unusual amount of time and thought to the play. “You get that with opera, but not so much with theater,” he said. “The model of us being producers and makers is somewhat unusual, and it gives you the luxury of experiment.”
He added: “We’re hoping this is a repeatable model. We have ideas for several other things that are impossible to adapt.”
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