Telling a story in verse is difficult, especially when the story’s as funny, rambling and conceptually complex as Voltaire’s “Candide,” the French satirical novel published in 1759. Playwright T.J. Edwards has put together a verse adaptation of the play, about a young optimist named Candide who believes everything is for the best until numerous hardships force him to acknowledge that there is no rhyme or reason to the world. In honor of the play — “Optimism! or Voltaire’s Candide,” on now at Spooky Action Theater — and of Edwards’ efforts, we wrote the following article in verse, as well. Your move, Voltaire.
Making an audience love a satire
Is so uniquely challenging
Because you want it to inspire
While making fun of everything.
Let’s take “Candide,” the Voltaire tale
(It’s now adapted for the stage
And in D.C.) — it’s hard to nail.
That balance can be hard to gauge.
For Michael Chamberlain, director,
The key to satire is heart.
And so sincerity’s his vector
While making sure the show’s still smart.
The crux of the whole thing is balance:
“The gravitas of the events,”
He says, taxes the writer’s talents.
The writing must be light, not dense.
He says there are two easy traps,
And both will make your show a drag:
Be earnest through it all, like saps,
Or worse, make everything a gag.
“Candide” is full of melodrama,
Of violence and death and strife.
And yet it doesn’t milk the trauma,
It treats it as a part of life.
The characters philosophize
At first that all is for the best.
Eventually they realize
Philosophy makes you depressed
“They stop the intellectualizing,
Get back to practicality,”
Says Chamberlain. And it’s surprising,
Because there’s the sincerity.
The truth that lies with “Candide”
Reminds us that we must concede
That life is hard and quite erratic
And (lucky for the play) dramatic,
And that there’s nothing we can do.
That’s Voltaire’s truth. Chamberlain’s, too.
“The characters think very quickly,”
Chamberlain says. It won’t make sense
Unless the dialogue flows slickly:
“The play’s ideas are very dense.”
This T.J. Edwards adaptation
Is long, and wholly told in verse.
This lends some speed to the narration,
Some vigor — rhyming’s not a curse.
And that is why we thought we’d try it
Just for this feature. Do you buy it?Spooky Action Theater, 1810 16th St. NW; through May 19, $10-$25; 202-248-0301. (Dupont Circle)