Always looking to innovate, and reflecting a desire to enter into subjects in depth, the Casual Conversation team, i.e, me, is offering you two occasions to explore the works of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Austria. The first is on Sunday, May 7, at 1 pm Eastern Time for a play reading by your classmates and others in the Traveling Troupe of an adaptation by Zweig (translated back into English) of Ben Jonson’s famous play Volpone. The second is two days later, on Tuesday May 9 at 4:30 pm Eastern Time for a discussion amongst ourselves of Zweig’s very short novella Chess Story and/or its recent movie version.
You can join either or both.
Some further background:
This Volpone is, of course, originally by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary and a contributor of praise to the Bard in the First Folio. This version of Volpone was “freely adapted” by Stefan Zweig, the acclaimed writer, a century ago. Zweig’s adaptation was written in his native language, German. Then along came Ruth Langner, who, at the behest of Alfred Lunt who wanted to play Mosca, translated the Zweig adaptation back into English. The play was staged in the US and other countries where it was received with praise, except in the UK. And, as you will read, when the production was staged for a very limited run on Broadway, Sidney Greenstreet played the title role.
A stage history of this unusual Volpone can be found here:https://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/benjonson/k/essays/stage_history_Volpone/20/ .
Why Stefan Zweig and why now? Because it may be his time, as Walter Benjamin had his time some eight or so years ago. Both were Jewish emigres who escaped from Hitler’s clutches. Both were lauded for the quality of their writing, Benjamin for non-fiction and Zweig for fiction. Both found existence in the non-German-speaking world intolerable and each died by suicide, Benjamin in Spain and Zweig in Brazil, the latter after taking an overdose of barbiturates with his wife. The day before Zweig died he sent to his publisher manuscripts of his autobiography and his novella Die Schachnovelle (The Chess Novel). From Larry List: “As either The Royal Game or Chess Story, this story has been in continuous publication, in multiple languages, ever since its initial 1942 Buenos Aires edition . . ..” NYRB Classics publishes the novella as Chess Story, tr. Joel Rotenberg (2006 ISBN 978-1-59017-169-1).
Although a number of his works have been made into films, five since 2013 alone, Zweig came to my attention through a laudatory review in the WSJ of Philipp Stolzl’s new film, Chess Story. It is available online and on a DVD. Here is the review from the LA Times: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-01-19/review-chess-story-stefan-zweig . It was after reading about the movie that I did some research and discovered Zweig’s Volpone.
There will be TWO events: FIRST, the reading of Volpone on Sunday, May 7 at 1 pm Eastern. Please join as an audience member. The cast may include the following: Jim O’Connell, Peter Elias, Allen Denison, Nanalee Raphael, both Abbotts, and Wayne Scherzer.
SECOND, we will have a discussion of Chess Story, the movie and/or the novella, at 4:30 pm the following Tuesday, May 9. Do you want to be part of this Casual Conversation?
You can come to one or both. Let me know your answer at email@example.com .
I hope to see each of you at both. No checkers allowed.