Theatre Preview: Updating a Manchurian classic

By Kenzie Love

Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate has already been filmed twice and now it’s being adopted to the stage by Workshop Theatre, Calgary’s largest running theatre company. In 1962, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury brought it back to life and last year Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep did the same. Both versions were critically acclaimed though neither was particularly successful commercially. Director George Smith is undaunted in giving the play a whirl, lousy past box office sales aside.

“[It] makes some pretty strong comments on the political and socio-economic conditions in the western world right now,” he ensures, mentioning the adaptation has been moved ahead several decades. “[The play] focuses on what’s going on in the war in Iraq, what’s going on in the United States, and the present administration.”

There hasn’t been a lot of good news on those fronts of late and Smith admits the play may be cynical but The Manchurian Candidate’s perspective isn’t completely gloomy.

“Certainly the overriding element is that in the end, the evil people don’t win,” he says. “And yet they’re still there, and they keep plugging away.”

However, he’s hoping that audiences will draw their own conclusions.

“I try not to preach as much as just present,” he says. “The play is super fun, you’re dealing with characters who for the most part are not your average everyday people. But the challenge is to make these fairly extreme people believable.”

Smith is confident the actors involved have met this challenge.

“I think I have a very talented and enthusiastic cast, and the play’s looking very strong right now,” he says. It looks like Smith’s gamble has paid off.


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