(In front of the theatre after the play)
The first time I read The Book Thief in 2007 I fell instantly for the book. I’ve reread it since then and each time my love for it has grown. So when I heard that it was chosen as this year’s One Book One Town for Chicago and it would be made into a play as part of the programming, I was thrilled!
I immediately planned a weekend trip to the windy city to see the show with friends. I was a bit nervous about how it would translate to the stage. How would the narrator, Death, be portrayed? What about Liesel and Rudy, child actors can be off-putting, would they be over the top?
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. It was so beautifully done I could hardly believe it. The book was adapted by Heidi Stillman and each choice was carefully made. Death is played by a friendly middle-aged man. He comes across as curious and kind and is instantly relatable. I can’t imagine how off-putting it would have been to have a lurking Grim Reaper figure trying to tell the story.
Rudy was by far one of the best parts of the show. He is so sweet and sincere, Death puts it beautifully when he says, "He just steps on your heart!" Papa and Mama were just right as well. Papa was kind, caring for Liesel and Max in his quiet way. Mama was brash at first, but the audience quickly realized how deeply she loved her family.
Liesel came across as hard and vulnerable all at the same time, just as she did in the book. She deals with so much heartbreak at such a young age, but she’s still just a girl. Her sobs as she cradles her brother’s body in the opening scene was enough to break you heart.
The stage was bleak and simple. The edges of the stages’ frame have the look of torn pages. There were also three large strips in the background that were used to show depth. At times one would be lit up with a color that Death saw. Other times there were real videos from World War II, bomber planes or marching soldiers, projected on one of the strips.
Another great addition was a trio of live musicians performing throughout the show. They were costumed to look like the German civilians in the show. One of them played his accordion every time Papa played for Liesel on the stage. It was truly beautiful.
We stayed for a discussion after the show and it was such a joy to hear the reactions of different audience members. Young students were talking about standing up for what’s right even when it’s hard. Adults were talking about the grief of loosing those you love. The story deals with so many issues that it crosses the divides between gender and age with ease. It is a universal tale, one that means something different to each person who reads or sees it.
I can’t say enough about this excellent performance. I hope that it is successful and is produced in other cities. If not, I hope that people will read the book no matter where they live and allow their own imaginations to create the scene in their heads.
Suey at It's All About Books is hosting a week-long celebration of Markus Zusak's books. Make sure you check it out here!