'Babylon Revisited': After 20 years, a dream comes to life for a theater director

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LENOX — It's taken Donald Marcus 20 years to bring F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, "Babylon Revisited," to the stage. Now, his dream is at hand.

"It's a piece that has spoken to me for 20 years," Marcus — a theater director and television writer and producer — said during an interview in a lobby area just outside Bernstein Studio One at Shakespeare & Company, where "Babylon Revisited" is performing weekends, tonight through Oct. 25. Press opening is Sunday afternoon.

Marcus, 69, and his wife of 41 years, Lisa Milligan, a singer, actress and producer, worked for a number of years with Curt Dempster at Ensemble Studio Theater in New York, before forming their own Ark Theatre Company in Greenwich Village. At Ark, Marcus produced and directed material that ranged from Julie Taymor to A.R. Gurney. He spent nine years in London. In Los Angeles, he produced over 40 hours of series television for CBS. ABC, USA and Fox. Through much of that time "Babylon Revisited" stayed with Marcus but the form eluded him until 2013 when fortune and their filmmaker son, Ted, brought Marcus and his wife to the Berkshires, where they now make their home.

Ted, now 26, was shooting a film at Searles Castle in Great Barrington. During a visit to the set, Marcus met then-27-year-old Anthony Nikolchev, an actor in the movie.

The two hit if off instantly.

"I knew I was ready to do theater again," Marcus said, "and Anthony has an intensity, a unique background with his acting work in Europe, especially Eastern Europe."

Marcus gave Nikolchev a copy of Fitzgerald's story and asked him to read it.

"He liked it," Marcus said, "and he pitched what became the foundational concept for our production." That concept is built around narrative delivered on stage by Fitzgerald's central character, played by Nikolchev, who is the only live actor in the piece. The other characters — some of them portrayed by members of Shakespeare & Company — appear in a series of videos.

Marcus says he had never thought of "Babylon Revisited" as a one-person show, let alone a multimedia theater piece but it's a form, Marcus says, that fits the skill set of his actor, who won best actor awards at the 2011 and 2012 United Solo International Theater Festival in New York.

Spare in its narrative style, Fitzgerald's story — which was published in the Feb. 21, 1931 issue of The Saturday Evening Post — is an emotionally loaded piece about an American named Charlie Wales, who has come to Paris for a five-day-visit with his nine-year-old daughter and to persuade his embittered sister-in-law and her husband — with whom the little girl, Honoria, has been living since the death of her mother three years earlier and her father's descent into alcohol and financial ruin — to allow him to regain legal guardianship of his daughter and take her with him to Prague, where he has a responsible job and a new lease on life.

"Fitzgerald's prose comes from a place of omniscient reflection," Nikolchev said in the joint interview with Marcus. "If you made this adaptation in a more conventional way, without a narrator and only the characters interacting with one another, you would struggle to hear Fitzgerald's voice.

"I wanted Charlie to take on Fitzgerald's voice. I wanted to bring Charlie through a journey while, at the same time, he has a perspective on the events."

In creating their script, "we've used as much Fitzgerald as possible and as little Marcus and Nikolchev as possible," Marcus said.

The video component, which has been under the supervision of Akexa Green, is seen as integral to the narrative. "It's all in the service of the story," Marcus said.

Marcus and Nikolchev says they have had the help of more than a few friends in shaping "Babylon Revisited."

Previews began Thursday and continue through Saturday. There will be even more tweaking, only now with a little help of theatergoers.

"I feel fortunate and grateful to have all these people in the room," Marcus said.

ON STAGE

What: "Babylon Revisited." Based upon the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Co-adapted for the stage and directed by Donald Marcus and Anthony Nikolchev

Who: Ark Theatre Company

When: Tonight through Oct. 25 (press opening 2:30 p.m. Sunday). Evenings — Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Sunday at 2:30

Where: Shakespeare & Company, Bernstein Studio One, Bernstein Performing Arts Complex, 70 Kemble St., Lenox

Tickets: $44.50 (students $24.50)


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