Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher taps on ‘Dr. Glas’ for new play at North Coast Rep
Famed playwright had never heard of 1905 Swedish novel but found it great fun to adapt for world premiere play
Outside of Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbors, it’s unlikely most people have ever heard of Hjalmar Söderberg’s 1905 modernist novella “Dr. Glas.” But with the help of prolific American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, that could soon change.
Hatcher’s theatrical adaptation of “Dr. Glas” will make its world premiere Wednesday, July 21, in a filmed production produced by North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. Directed by North Coast artistic director David Ellenstein and starring British theater actor Daniel Gerroll, “Dr. Glas” will stream on demand through Aug. 15.
In a recent phone interview from his home in Minnesota, Hatcher said he’d never heard of Söderberg or “Dr. Glas” before Gerroll asked him to consider adapting the book into a one-man play a few years ago.
“When I read it, it was screaming out to be done as a monologue play,” Hatcher said. “Dr. Glas is narrating his own story in a diary, and it’s got a very good plot.”
In the novel, Dr. Tyko Glas is a witty young Swedish doctor whose obsession with another man’s wife leads him to commit lies, schemes and murder. Like his surname, Glas feels largely invisible to the world, but with the murder he will become “seen.”
“Danny (Gerroll) would talk about how Dr. Glas is a man who has never had the opportunity to engage his passions, or rather has sublimated them until this one opportunity,” Hatcher said. “It’s about the need to act when you’re a passive character.”
Hatcher has drafted the play’s narrative into a psychological thriller, which he describes as “kind of like an episode of ‘Columbo’ written by Edgar Allan Poe.”
“You start in the mind of an intelligent, sophisticated professional doctor who will eventually commit what he thinks is the perfect murder and then it unravels,” said Hatcher, whose vast 40-year writing career has included both writing for the “Columbo” TV series in the 1990s and the 2005 stage play “Murder by Poe.”
Hatcher’s dozens of plays include “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” “Smash” and “Lucky Duck,” which were all produced at the Old Globe, and “Holmes and Watson,” at North Coast Rep in 2018. He’s now working on adapting the film “Dial M for Murder” for a Globe premiere in 2022. Among his most famous works are the stage adaptations of “Turn of the Screw” and “Tuesdays with Morrie” and the film screenplays for “Casanova,” “The Duchess” and “Mr. Holmes.”
Hatcher said about half of the scripts he writes are original ideas and the rest are adaptations of novels and old plays, often as commissions for regional theaters like the Old Globe. He described adaptations as requiring “a different sort of energy and an approach that’s more surgical” because it involves cutting away the fat to find the heart of the story.
Gerroll starred in the first developmental workshop of “Dr. Glas” at Theatre Aspen in 2019. For this world premiere, Hatcher did some final script revises and flew to San Diego in June for three days of rehearsals with Ellenstein and Gerroll.
Hatcher said “Dr. Glas” was adapted into Swedish films in the 1940s and the 1960s, but neither was successful because they lost the perspective of taking place entirely in the subjective mind of the doctor.
Although Hatcher said the play is about a “a sweaty, desperate character” consumed with guilt, it’s also quite a funny play because of its unique viewpoint.
“He’s one of those people who has a jaded view of the world,” Hatcher said. “He puts everyone under a microscope, and he’s very wry and ironic and funny about it.”
Streaming: Wednesday through Aug. 15
Tickets: $35, individuals; $54, groups
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