This section contains 6,005 words
(approx. 21 pages at 300 words per page)
Critical Essay by Myron Matlaw
SOURCE: "Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country and Maxwell Anderson's/Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars: A Consideration of Genres," in Arcadia, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1975, pp. 260-72.
In the essay below, Matlaw compares the generic methods of Cry, the Beloved Country to Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars (1949), a stage adaptation of Paton's novel, demonstrating how each work uses such formal strategies as narrative, stylistic devices, and characterization that achieve "very similar effects."
Drama, if it is not stillborn, is the joint creation of writer, producer, director, actors, stage technicians, musicians, and others. It comes to life only if and when performed in theatres before groups of people (audiences), who respond positively, negatively, or apathetically. Their response, whatever it is, at least to some extent affects the character and quality of the performance, i.e., the character and quality of the play. For this and other reasons inherent in the very nature of live performances, no production can ever be exactly the same as any other one of the same play, even in the same run and with the identical cast. Furthermore, if a production is to survive, audiences must be entertained. Entertainment in the theatre appeals first of all to the senses and the emotions. Of primary importance and meaning, therefore, are the means by which the various senses of audiences are assaulted: spectacle, sounds, actions, movements, gestures, facial expressions—all of which are usually not even noted and are but rarely stressed in the published play. The dialogue—which constitutes virtually the whole of the published play—is often of secondary importance in performance, for spoken words are elusive and difficult to assimilate.
In sum, drama does not aim to engage the intellect primarily—if at all. Rather, it appeals primarily to somatic responses, to passions, to feelings, and to sentiments. To be understood and responded to immediately, as drama must be if it is to be viable, it can not be hedged by subtlety. Action and dialogue must be clear, direct, and simple. And reading a play, if it is to be meaningful, must therefore necessarily be most imaginative: the whole theatre—setting, actors, sounds, movements, spectacle, and yes, even audience responses—must be constantly evoked in the reader's mind, as it always is and as it has to be in the mind of the playwright. For example, Bertolt Brecht, who like many playwrights was deeply involved in the staging of his plays, kept the model of a theatre within view as he worked, to remind himself of his purpose, and of the trappings of the live theatre for which he wrote. Reading a play thus is analogous to reading a musical score: the reader must continuously translate (i.e., imagine or recreate) the written symbols into their total objective realities (the produced play, the performed musical composition), for the reading of scripts and scores is significant only if it is accompanied by the evocation of live performances. At the same time, reading scripts and scores can be the most rewarding possible experience of such works: it enables the conjuring up, at any imaginative reader's convenience and pleasure, performances which are ideal, perfect, flawless.
Fiction, on the other hand, is the product of one individual creator (for a story or a novel may exist as a completed work of art even in unpublished form). Fiction is written solely for other individual—not groups of—readers, who customarily peruse it in solitude, and at a pace wholly determined by each individual reader. A reader may stop and mull over single phrases or sentences or whole paragraphs, skip others, and return from time to time to reread passages or, for that matter, the whole work. Unlike the play, whose production is a juggernaut that proceeds on its preordained route without concern for individuals in the audience group, the novel lends itself to varying individual manipulations and responses, emotional as well as intellectual. Unless the aim is for a popular best seller—a product marketed for relatively unsophisticated and shallow minds—a novelist may therefore shape the language, ideas, and form of the work without any concern whatever with the need for simplicity, directness, and instant clarity. Subtlety, length, difficulty, neologistic experimentation and syntactical or semantic obfuscation (as in the novels of James Joyce), serpentine sentences (as in the works of William Faulkner), convoluted diction and loaded pronouns (such as those of Henry James), projections of dense and symbolic subjectivity (as in Marcel Proust's octad)—all these, which require careful exegesis for an understanding of even the surface meaning of the narrative, rather than being flaws, when artistically wrought may even enhance a novel. The same characteristics destroy a play.
These perhaps obvious but all-too-often forgotten generic distinctions must be borne in mind in any comparison of particular works of drama and fiction, even if their plots and characters be the same. If the comparison is that of a novel with a musical play, the generic distinction is even greater and more interesting. A case in point is Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars (1949), a dramatization of Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country (1948).
Paton's novel, it may be recalled, is an episodical portrayal of racially-divided South Africa. The sufferings of Kumalo, a Zulu country pastor who visits Johannesburg, epitomize the sufferings of the blacks—just as the tragedy befalling Jarvis, Kumalo's wealthy white neighbor, universalizes the tragedy of racial strife. With the help of a Johannesburg minister and others, Kumalo finds his brother John, a successful merchant and politician whose oratorical skills arouse the blacks and alarm the police, and his sister, who has become a prostitute and neglects her child. Most painful of all is Kumalo's discovery that his son, Absalom, had become a delinquent, been sentenced to a reformatory, and is now missing. Absalom participates in a notorious Johannesburg murder—that of Jarvis' son, a fervent civil rights advocate. At the trial, Absalom confesses his part in the crime, and is condemned to death. The heart-broken Kumalo returns to his village, where crop failures are causing starvation. Unable to help, he is urged by his superior to leave his congregation. The slain man's little boy unwittingly saves the blacks by describing their plight to his grandfather. Jarvis, who in his grief has tried to understand his murdered son's social views, ultimately provides the villagers with the desperately needed help. Coming to terms with the murder and the racial gulf between them, the two bereaved fathers are able, however painfully, to communicate and understand each other's sorrow even as Kumalo, on the dawn of his son's scheduled execution, goes up the mountain and weeps in solitude.
Though the play, with its haunting musical score by Kurt Weill, has been criticized as a feeble replica of a powerful novel ("A strong novel can make a weak book", the Washington Daily News of February 21, 1972, headlined its review of a recent revival), both works are deeply moving. But they accomplish their very similar effects in quite different ways, each in a manner befitting its own genre.
The emotional impact of Cry, the Beloved Country is achieved, first of all and most consistently, by Paton's stylistic understatement, by his use and reuse of a few simple, almost stilted, formal phrases. Is it heavy? Jarvis asks Stephen Kumalo when the latter haltingly and painfully reveals his identity as the father of the murderer of Jarvis' son. Kumalo's reply echoes and reechoes the adjective: It is very heavy, umnumzana. It is the heaviest thing of all my years … This thing that is the heaviest thing of all my years, is the heaviest thing of all your years also. Another example occurs early in the novel; after Kumalo commends Msimangu's kindness, the latter's demurrer, I am not kind, I am a selfish and sinful man, but God put his hands on me, that is all, is echoed by him and by Jarvis at the end of the novel in his last meeting with Kumalo, when the white man fiercely interrupts the black pastor's praise by disclaiming any great personal virtue:
—I am no saintly man, said Jarvis fiercely.
—Of that I cannot speak, but God put His hands on you.
And Jarvis said, That may be, that may be …
Similarly Mrs. Lithebe, whenever she is praised for her great generosity, repeatedly responds with a question that becomes something of a litany: Why else were we born?
In their stark simplicity, these and other phrases often suggest the biblical. Like the scripture readings (Chapter 13) and the errant son's name (Absalom), they sometimes even echo the Bible directly, as in this passage: Kumalo's heart went out in great compassion for the boy that must die, who promised now, when there was no more mercy, to sin no more. Such phrases are so effective because their very understatement heightens the impact of what is clearly implied. They achieve yet greater power because they appear at climactic moments, such as the ones just cited, and they are repeated periodically. Thus their effect also resembles that of the incremental repetition of folk ballads.
Paton's selection of episodes and his narration and descriptions follow a similar stylistic manner. In these, too, understatement and repetition predominate, thus contributing to the desired effect. Almost conspicuously Paton eschews depicting—instead he merely alludes to or presents in the form of newspaper accounts—externally dramatic situations. This is true not only of the most consequential event of the novel—the murder itself—but also of such inherently dramatic situations as the abortive miners' strike or the confrontations between the novel's four sets of fathers and sons: the Kumalos, the Jarvises, the Harrisons, and the Johannesburg Kumalos (John and his son, who represent a different kind of opposition to apartheid).
Instead of depicting violent scenes, Paton interweaves into the narrative events seemingly tangential to the main story line. These events are made interesting in themselves as history, but they are also made immediately pertinent to and revealing of the novel's action and characters. Thus the portrayal of the natives' boycott of the buses (Chapter 8) juxtaposes a vivid picture of this historical event with old Kumalo's search for his son, with Dubula's type of black leadership, and with Msimangu and Kumalo's reactions of some whites' incredible and courageous kindness to the blacks. (Yet another contrast is of course implied in the portrayal of the other black leaders, especially with Kumalo's brother, discussed below.) Similarly, the vignettes of Chapter 9, like John Dos Passos' U.S.A. vignettes of the American milieu of the early part of the century, depict the desperate natives' housing shortage and their misery and corruption which accompany the erection of Shanty Town. These vignettes appear as Kumalo prepares to visit his son and the girl in that very Shanty Town, an environment which has already predetermined those young people's wretched existences. In a comparable manner, the discovery of gold in Odendaalsrust (Chapter 23) occurs at the time of Absalom's trial, and it is tied in with the socio-economic realities that, like the treatment of the native miners, have brought and (unless ways are changed) will continue to bring tragedy to blacks and whites alike.
Striking in these descriptions are Paton's changing tone and point of view. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of an omniscient author whose tone ranges from reportorial objectivity to editorial evangelism. Parts of the story, however, are presented through the eyes of one or another of the characters, though this apparently limited point of view is controlled by the author to convey specific effects. Whatever the viewpoint, there are constant yet subtle shifts in tone, ranging from sympathy and hope through bewilderment, grief, and indignation.
The lyrical first paragraph of the brief opening chapter of Book I is identical, word for word, with the opening of Book II: There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills … which are lovely beyond any singing of it…. Both openings describe the panoramic beauty and the lush vegetation of the hills. This is the home of Jarvis, and the opening description of Book II, which focuses on Jarvis, stops with the hills. The opening chapter of Book I, which focuses on Kumalo, continues with another and in all respects contrasting description, that of land that is barren and desolate, the valley in which Kumalo and the other blacks live. The titihoya does not cry here any more, for here there is insufficient food to attract even a bird. The tone becomes indignant as the green fecundity of the hills is contrasted with the red barrenness of the valley: Stand shod upon it, for it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or guarded, or cared for…. Finally, as we are shown the sterile land in which only the aged are left, the tone becomes elegiac: … the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them any more.
Even more explicitly 'editorial' are the sections that follow newspaper accounts and such other apparently journalistic digressions as the vignettes on the erection of Shanty Town, the panoramic view of Johannesburg's fear after the murder, and the descriptions of the discovery of gold and the miners' strike. In these chapters' terminal sections, the attitudes implied in the apparently objective narrative are made explicit. After the newspaper report of the murder is read aloud by Father Vincent, for example, his listeners remain silent. But the author editorializes: Sadness and fear and hate, how they well up in the heart and mind, whenever one opens the pages of these messengers of doom. Cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone. Aye, and cry aloud for the man who is dead, for the woman and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, these things are not yet at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on the lovely land that man cannot enjoy. He knows only the fear of his heart. The chapter immediately following (Chapter 12) presents numerous vignettes (paralleling the vignettes of the misery of Shanty Town in Chapter 9) vivifying the fear in the land and the fear in the heart that preclude enjoyment of life and the beauty of nature: scenes at a suburban meeting in which are expressed demands for greater police protection, proposals for the amelioration of the natives' poverty and despair, debates on the efficacy (and expense) of educating the blacks, and arguments about enforcing the pass laws; ladies chatting in a country club about various proposals that are unfeasible because they would inconvenience or threaten the whites and are therefore discarded (Oh, it's too hot to argue. Get your racquet; my dear, they're calling us …; and other such settings and discussions. At the conclusion, the author once more editorializes: Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear….
Understatement, deceptive simplicity, repetition, selectivity of narrative, episode, and setting, as well as the emotional charge of Paton's style—all these are manifested also in Paton's characterizations.
The novel's major character, the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, has evoked its readers' greatest compassion. Throughout his sufferings he remains an apparently humble, affectionate, kindly, simple, pious, God-fearing old man. Yet far from being simple or simply virtuous, he is portrayed in depth, as a flawed human being. Heroic in his ability to bear terrible private afflictions and tragedy, he is also able to continue to lead his parishioners out of communal suffering and tragedy. At the same time he is subject, too, to anger that manifests itself even in cruelty: to prove her depravity. Kumalo viciously tricks his son's mistress into admitting that she could be willing to become his own mistress; and he frightens his brother by lying, by falsely asserting that John is being observed by spies. Kumalo is guilty even of the most heinous of all Christian sins, despair, a sin against which both Msimangu and the kindly English pastor, Father Vincent, sternly caution him on different occasions. Kumalo is marred, too, by such lesser human flaws as jealousy (when he learns about the salary of the agricultural demonstrator), vanity (his boastful behavior toward fellow blacks in the train to Johannesburg), and pride (in being the brother of a man who enjoys material luxuries); and there is an allusion to an earlier episode that had nearly culminated in adultery with one of his parishioners. Finally, though he is well aware of its futility, Kumalo cannot resist repeatedly nagging his already contrite and doomed son with recriminations and unanswerable or futile questions. All these attributes of Kumalo are shown rather than stated, and their manifestations are narrated with striking verbal economy and deceptive simplicity.
Jarvis, Kumalo's white pendant, is more elusively characterized. Seen only after tragedy has struck, Jarvis is never actually shown in his opposition to his son's socio-political beliefs and practices. A single brief speech, however, makes clear that the unportrayed relationship between Jarvis and his son was identical to that of the Harrisons, his daughter-in-law's brother and father. One of their functions in the novel is, precisely, to suggest—without actually depicting—the affectionate yet antagonistic relationship that had existed between Jarvis and his son, Arthur. My son and I didn't see eye to eye on the native question, Jarvis tells the younger Harrison; in fact, he and I got quite heated about it on more than one occasion. But the novel itself depicts only Jarvis' painfully going through his dead son's belongings, agonizing over them, and finally coming to terms not merely with his son's murder (ironically by one of the very natives whose cause he had so fervently championed and whose love he had so widely enjoyed) but with the whole 'native question' and, indeed, with the central 'question' of South Africa—and of universal human brotherhood. His last gesture on that sad visit to Johannesburg is to leave young Harrison a large check with instructions to do all the things you and Arthur wanted to do.
Even some of the minor characters are portrayed in three-dimensional terms. The almost saintly Msimangu, as he himself says in his already quoted remark, is not flawless; though he later apologizes for his bitter, sarcastic comments to Kumalo about Absalom's girl and her unborn child, these comments deeply wounded the already stricken father, as Msimangu knew they were bound to do. His white counterpart, the sympathetic young reformatory worker (who in part personifies Paton himself), later apologizes for his similarly harsh outburst, which also was caused by such frustration, anger, and grief.
Though less subtle, the characterization of Kumalo's brother is striking. Both John's private and his public actions (especially in Chapter 26, which shows him on the speaker's platform, mesmerizing even his brother and worrying the white constabulary) help to develop his portrayal as a very great orator with the voice of a bull (and other bullish attributes) who could rally the natives to revolution in order to assert their human rights. But he stops short of the decisive step because he is a cowardly opportunist out only to get what he can in a society structured to keep him enslaved, and he is too amoral and—above all—too fearful of jeopardizing his personal comfort and success. There is no applause in prison, the omniscient author wryly observes, and Msimangu expresses his relief at John's corruption, for if he were not corrupt, he could plunge this country into bloodshed. He is corrupted by his possessions, and he fears their loss, and the loss of the power he already has. How right Msimangu is in this assessment is clearly shown in the brief description of John's immediate panicky reaction to his brother's suggestion that he might be arrested: The big bull man wiped the sweat from his brow. His deficient leadership is thus explicitly contrasted with that of Dubula and Tomlinson, especially as depicted in Dubula's participation in the bus boycott scene (Chapter 8).
In a comparable manner, their sister, Gertrude, another minor character, is also presented meaningfully. She is believable as a decent woman driven to brassy whoredom and shabby motherhood by apartheid and its effects. But she strives for decency, however unsuccessfully, escaping her tormenting fleshly temptations only by joining a nunnery. In contrast, Absalom's mistress, despite a similar past, fits into Kumalo's pious life style as soon as she enters Mrs. Lithebe's house. The girl is not like Gertrude. She is openly glad to be in this house, the narrator says, and Mrs. Lithebe does not need to chide her as she must chide Gertrude. Such carefully and subtly and symmetrically wrought contrasts are achieved in the portrayals of these women just as they are in the portrayals of the Kumalo brothers, of Jarvis, and of Harrison—all members of the conflicting old order as well as fathers in conflict with their sons, proponents of differing new moral as well as new social orders.
All such subtleties as well as the earlier noted understatements and modulations in viewpoint are not practicable in the theatre. Here, as been suggested before, speech and action, taking the place of the written word, must move more rapidly, simply, and clearly. Yet even within the limits imposed by the medium of the stage, Anderson in Lost in the Stars strove not only to dramatize Paton's story but also to communicate Paton's attitudes, to recreate the effects Paton had sought, and to evoke comparable responses.
The most immediately striking changes in the stage adaptation are the additions, the various types of ensemble and choral 'numbers' that are obligatory in the musical theatre: comedy (the honky-tonk law court spoof of I 6 as well as Alex' playful song and game of II 5), sex (Linda's Who'll Buy? song in I 6), romance (Irina's Trouble Man and Stay Well of I 7 and II 2), and sentimentality (winsome children—Alex, and to a lesser degree Edward—and Kumalo's Thousands of Miles and The Little Grey House songs in I 1 and I 5). Though fashioned for Broadway audiences, these numbers are well integrated in the plot and they do not distort or detract from Paton's story. Some of them, particularly Kumalo's songs, even enhance it. Thousands of Miles, as will be seen, transcends the sentimental and provides an effective musical equivalent to Paton's final narrative in the novel. Lost in the Stars, the first-act curtain song, movingly dramatizes the old pastor's temporary religious doubts—perhaps not quite as sinful as his despair, but certainly as effective in the theatre as Msimangu's and Father Vincent's castigations are in the novel. Similarly, Kumalo's agonizing over Absalom's dilemma in The Soliloquy (Must be tell a lie and live—/ Or speak truth and die? II 1), while it adds a doubt not entertained by Kumalo in the novel, prepares for his appeal to Jarvis for a mercy plea in the next scene, and conveys his impotence in helping his son as powerfully as does his futile nagging in the novel.
These musical additions have the same effect as Paton's novelistic understatements: they heighten the emotional impact. Kurt Weill's characteristic 'song play' score, though it lacks the Brechtian bite of his most famous works, articulates Anderson's stark if sometimes sentimental lyrics which explicitly articulate Paton's implications. Matching these lyrics, Weill's swelling, operatic music and his jazz idiom permeate his score for Lost in the Stars—his last score for Broadway and the one Lotte Lenya thought superior to all his others except for Die Dreigroschenoper and Mahagonny.
Almost as obvious a change as the addition of music is the simplification of the novel's plot. It is reduced to but a few highlights, for on the stage Paton's story necessarily had to be cut all the more because of the added 'numbers'. Anderson sacrificed many of the novel's subtleties and omitted many of its episodes entirely. The omissions constitute substantial elements of the novel: Kumalo's extensive associations with Msimangu, Father Vincent, Mrs. Lithebe, and others (none of whom appear in the play); fictionalized treatments of historical events (the bus boycott, the discovery of gold at Odendaalsrust, and the miners' strike); Kumalo's reunion and subsequent relations with Gertrude (who does not appear in the play either); most of the episodes dealing with Jarvis and with John Kumalo and, of course, everything relating to their associates; and virtually the novel's entire denouement.
Such substantive cuts necessitated changes in plot and character, and additions of new episodes to clarify and speed the action along. Thus Kumalo's extended and eventful search for Absalom, constituting much of the novel's Book I, is telescoped into a single scene (I 4), the dread as Kumalo hurries alone from address to address being conveyed effectively by the chorus. His two visits to Absalom's Shanty Town shack (Chapters 10 and 16) are fused in I 7, where the pregnant girl, Irina (she is nameless in the novel), sings tenderly about her love for her Trouble Man. In place of Msimangu and others who in the novel share Kumalo's experiences, thoughts, and discussions, Anderson expands the role of Gertrude's boy, Alex. It is he who has a long talk with Jarvis' grandson (not Kumalo, who in Chapters 31 and 33 has three different encounters with the white boy). And Alex also appears prominently in various episodes invented by Anderson, such as the one in which Kumalo sings to him about their home in Ndotsheni (I 5).
The portrayal of the murder, which in the novel is revealed indirectly and only gradually, through rumors and in the cross examination (Chapter 22), is acted out on the stage in a brief but tense and violent scene (I 8). The ensuing communal fear (described in the various episodes of the novel's twelfth chapter) is dramatized by a chorus of blacks and whites on a Shanty Town street (I 10). On the stage, both fathers are seen aware of the murder immediately: there is no dramatization of Chapters 18-21, for example, which portray Jarvis' learning of and attempting to come to terms with his son's death; or of Chapters 11 and 13, in which Kumalo has premonitions that associate Absalom with the latest reported murder. Necessarily such expediting of the plot sacrifices suspense as well as subtlety of characterization.
Anderson's most radical change of the story line is in the denouement. Paton's ending fuses Kumalo's acceptance of divine will and an understanding and mutual compassion between Kumalo and Jarvis as men and as fathers as well as members of different races, within the social and economic context of apartheid. The complexity and implications of that context, so sensitively structured in the novel's last five chapters, are deleted from the play. Anderson's simplification not only does away with the perhaps undramatizable descriptions of Kumalo's feelings and thoughts during the solitary vigil on the mountain. It substitutes for them Kumalo's and Jarvis' exclamations of brotherhood—I have a friend—as the white man puts his arm around the black man and the clock strikes the fatal hour. This simplistic resolution is undeniably sentimental as well as meretricious.
As these changes suggest, much of the novel's subtlety and suspense are sacrificed. Characterization in the play too is simplified, both in variety and depth. Not only are Msimangu, Father Vincent, Mrs. Lithebe, Gertrude, as well as the various Jarvis in-laws and friends and many others, black and white, completely eliminated in the play. The major characters themselves are diminished as characters.
Kumalo remains a simple, humble, affectionate, kindly, pious and God-fearing old man—but the 'negative' qualities that make him believably human are missing. Instead of being shown in sinful despair he is shown in abject misery. And he has none of the flaws he exhibits in the novel: jealousy, vanity, pride, and fleshly temptations. Omitted, too, are his futile nagging of the contrite Absalom. There is only a single manifestation of his anger (Kumalo's tricking Irina into agreeing to become his mistress, Chapter 16 // I 7, its sexual suggestiveness perhaps making it irresistible for a Broadway musical.
Jarvis, instead of being Kumalo's white pendant—a major and well-rounded character who helps to universalize the meaning of the novel's plot—here is a villainous but a minor character. In Anderson's dramatization of the racial themes, Jarvis is a stereotyped bigot who at the very end 'reforms', suddenly and totally. In an early scene (I 2), for example, the arguments between Jarvis and his son, merely hinted at in the novel, are portrayed in an explosive outburst of paternal fury when Arthur, in violation of South African custom, crosses racial lines to greet Kumalo. The novel's muted portrayal of Jarvis' feelings after the murder (Chapters 18-21) is similarly changed: instead of Paton's descriptions of Jarvis' reactions of shock, grief, and concern for his wife, Anderson has Jarvis merely rail contemptuously at all blacks (I 9). The identical effect is achieved in the complete alteration of the post-murder meeting between the two fathers: instead of the painfully allusive few words following their accidental confrontation (Chapter 25), Anderson has Kumalo seek Jarvis' intercession for mercy for Absalom, thus eliciting yet another of Jarvis' bitter racial tirades (II 1).
The character of Kumalo's brother, John, is similarly diminished and altered. In the play he is simply a sleazy operator and a gross human being. His summoning letter to Kumalo (Anderson's substitute for Msimangu's letter in the novel) foreshadows his actual appearance in the play in the letter's opening words (Dear Stephen, you old faker in Christ …) and in the blunt report of their sister's flagrant promiscuity (not even mentioned in the original letter by Msimangu) which, he complains, is ruining his business (I 1). The substitution of two bland Zulu or Bantu political lieutenants for the novel's black leadership group of which he is a powerful and shrewd member further diminishes his significance in the play. These and other simplifications of plot and characterization seem to destroy a complex, moving, and believable story. Nonetheless, Anderson and Weill's generic conversion of this story is essentially faithful to and communicates much of the effect of Paton's work.
For what is most felicitously theatricalized is what is central to the novel, the narrative and the perspective. As has been suggested above, Paton's authorial intrusions and shifting viewpoint are not only integral to the story line. Rather, it is they that give the story much of its meaning and power. And while the story and the characters are indeed considerably simplified in the play, these fundamental elements of narrative intrusion and point of view are effectively and pervasively adapted into dramatic terms.
In place of the novel's narrator and author, a chorus of 'singers' and a 'Leader' articulate the narrative and the viewpoint of the action on the stage. Commenting on individual episodes and participating in them, the chorus and Leader are the most prominent characters on the stage—visually, aurally, and kinetically. Throughout the play, they sit, stand, and move about on flights of steps that lead from the orchestra pit up to the center and the sides of the stage. Thus the chorus and the Leader are invested with the fluidity and flexibility to translate the shifting narrative tone of the novel into quite theatrical terms. The lyrical introduction of the novel (There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills …), for example, is sung by the Leader in the opening number of the play, the contrast between the hill and the valley stressed by the spoken interpolations of a straight man (the 'Answerer'). The Wild Justice song that starts the second act does not (as does the novel's opening of Book II) repeat these words. However, it conveys a similar theme: the injustice of men, who punish crime by committing further crimes—in contrast to wild (or nature's) justice which, as a series of images suggests, is divine and ineffable. (The injustice of man is the subject again in the brief lyrical choral interpolations during the trial in II 3.)
Paton's angry compassion is expressed by the chorus in its principal numbers. Immediately after Absalom's conviction, the chorus sings Cry, the Beloved Country (II 4), a lament for the human waste, rapacity, destruction, and fear that will pass on to the next generation. The chorus' reprise following Absalom and Irina's marriage in prison explicitly incorporates this thought into the general lament: Cry, the unborn son, / fatherless, / … / Cry, the beloved country! Echoing the novel's narrator, the chorus, constituting Kumalo's congregation at his resignation, prays for divine guidance as it reviews man's brief earthly pilgrimage in the A Bird of Passage song (II 5).
Here and elsewhere the chorus not only comments on but also itself participates in and becomes a part of the action. As a group of Zulus bidding farewell to a companion at the village railroad station (I 2), it intersperses its singing with the thrice reiterated lines suggested in the novel (Chapter 2) by Kumalo and his wife, that while
White man go to Johannesburg—
He come back, he come back.
Black man go to Johannesburg—
Never come back, never come back!
To accentuate the frantic father's search for his son in Johannesburg (I 4), the chorus is used imaginatively and effectively to recite the various addresses he is given, to comment on the tearful omens (A boding song, / Searing like flame), and to articulate Kumalo's humiliation when he hears that his son has been in jail (In prison cells they give you a number, / Tag your clothes with it, / Print your shame!). Reporting the crime, the chorus in the Murder in Parkwold song (I 8) conveys the frenzy as it repeats the simple title phrase, adding descriptive phrases spoken (not sung) by individual members of the chorus who represent various townspeople: Nobody knows why or by whom!… He [the victim] went to help the servant! etc. In a song that constitutes the whole of I 10, a chorus of black and white singers articulates various forms of the Fear of the few for the many, / Fear of the many for the few! that pervades the land following this latest crime. In the play's final scene, the chorus dramatizes and heightens the apprehensive suspense as Kumalo awaits the hour of his son's execution by the repeated chanting of the ominous words Four o'clock, it will soon be four.
The play's curtain is the choral reprise of Kumalo's Thousands of Miles song, his first song in the play:
Each lives alone in a world of dark,
Crossing the skies in a lonely arc,
Save when love leaps out like a leaping spark
Over thousands, thousands of miles!
These words are the peroration of the paean to familial love with which Kumalo had consoled his wife in the play's modification of the couple's painful recriminations during the letter episode (Chapter 2 // I 1). Coming here, right after the Kumalo-Jarvis 'brotherhood' scene and at the very end of the play, the choral reprise constitutes an effective equivalent to Paton's narrative section that ends the novel: his confidence, however tentatively formulated, that South Africa will some day become emancipated from racism, hatred, and fear. Though in manifestly different ways, the endings of both the novel and the play communicate similar feelings with equally great intensity. But each does so with complete appropriateness and consistency to its particular genre.
Weill's music and Anderson's lyrics as well as his selectivity and reshaping of the novel's episodes—all these translate Paton's novel into theatrical terms. As does any translation, of course, this one too presents many problems, some of them insoluble. Necessarily something of the original is lost, as is always the case. At the same time (as is true particularly of poetry), effective translating can be done only by reshaping the original in accord with the translator's own and very different language. The result is a new work that may be as good as or even better than the original. Though Lost in the Stars may not be 'better' than Cry, the Beloved Country, or perhaps is not even 'as good', it conveys the essentials of the original work in a powerful manner. Both in artistic and in commercial terms, it successfully transposed Paton's novel from the printed page to the living theatre, employing the different means necessary to portray similar characters and actions, to express similar attitudes, and to convey similar effects.
This section contains 6,005 words
(approx. 21 pages at 300 words per page)