Philip K. Dick needs no introduction to science fiction fans. His novels and stories were enormously influential on SF, and many have been made into popular movies. Not many of them, though, have been adapted for the stage. Playwright/director Edward Einhorn, who co-founded Untitled Theatre Company #61 with his brother David, has taken a crack at Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, adapted (loosely) for the screen in 1982 as Blade Runner. Einhorn’s production of Do Androids Dream… is currently running at 3LD in lower Manhattan, closing December 10th. I posed some questions to Einhorn about science fiction, his production, and theatre in general.
Danny Bowes: What sparked your interest in science fiction?
Edward Einhorn: Like many things I came to love, I was introduced to it by my brother. I think he showed me the Asimov books first, when I was in 4th grade or so. He also introduced me to Philip K. Dick, though much later. But the first thing he read to me were the Oz books, which sparked my interest in books altogether—I have written a few modern Oz sequels (illustrated by Eric Shanower and published by Hungry Tiger Press), and a lot of my love of literature comes from Oz and Alice.
DB: Who are some favorite science fiction authors of yours and why?
EE: The ones I read early—Asimov, Dick, Vonnegut, and Le Guin are the ones who stay with me the most strongly, still. And not to sound like an old grouch, for I have enjoyed a lot of contemporary science fiction, but I think that one of the great assets of the work of that era was that the greatest writers had an economy of words (maybe less so for Asimov, but definitely for Dick, Vonnegut, and Le Guin). There seems a need in contemporary SF to have thick, complicated tomes, and I do enjoy those sometimes, but I think it is hard to sustain the beauty of language in those thicker works. Perhaps I am prejudiced because I love plays so much, and one of the rules of plays, I feel, is to never use an extra word if you don’t have to.
The other thing I like about those classic works is the way they tackle philosophical ideas. I tend more towards what some people call literary science fiction, but what I mean by that is that it is full of interesting language, experimentation, and ideas. But since I run a Theater of Ideas, that’s probably not surprising.
DB: What drew you to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And what inspired you to adapt it for the stage?
EE: I read the book after I had already seen Blade Runner, and I was struck by how different it was—and to my mind, better. The thing that intrigued me about it was Mercerism, empathy, and their relationship to the symbol of the electric sheep—none of which appeared in the movie at all. The movie is of course an entity in itself, and groundbreaking in its own way, but it didn’t capture the heart of what the book said to me.
Then I read about one of Dick’s inspirations—he had read a Nazi journal in which an SS officer complained about not being able to sleep because the crying of the children in the concentration camps kept him awake. Instead of empathizing with the suffering of the children, the officer only saw them as a nuisance that disturbed his sleep. Dick started thinking of people who lacked any sort of empathy as androids. To me, the book is all about how the process of war and killing (or being enslaved) makes people into androids, and Mercerism is all about resurrecting that spirit inside. Deckard is a character who is losing his own humanity because of his job.
This theme seemed to resonate perfectly with our mission, which as I said, is to be a Theater of Ideas. It also reminded me of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, which I staged some years ago. During World War II, as Ionesco saw fellow colleagues succumb to anti-Semitism, he started envisioning those people as rhinoceroses, losing their humanity to a herd instinct. That connection made Do Androids Dream… seem all the more perfect material for us.
DB: How did this particular production come to be?
EE: I had been thinking about it for a few years, but it has been the residency at 3LD that has made it possible. We were granted the residency about a year ago, and we’ve been planning the show since. I must say, I don’t think this work could have been fully realized in any other theater in New York, at least not without a much larger budget. 3LD had the technology and desire to make our dreams come true, and they have.
DB: Both the film adaptation Blade Runner and your stage version are visually quite arresting, taking similar visual cues and going in a different direction. Were the visuals of the play inspired by the movie or the novel?
EE: I hope not by the movie. I have been deliberately avoiding the movie (and I have deliberately not even glanced at the graphic novel) because I wanted my vision to be wholly shaped by the book. Of course, some comparisons are unavoidable—I knew when I cast Christian Pederson as Roy Baty (right) there was a physical similarity, but I cast him despite that, rather than because of it—he’s such a talented actor and perfect for the part. And I’m sure working with similar source material has inspired some other similarities, though honestly I have been able to block the movie out of my mind enough that I wouldn’t be able to identify them myself.
But the concepts behind our designs were a few: first of all, I wanted to mix the organic and mechanical. I wanted the set itself to feel like an organic object, full of curves, with screens that resembled eyes and a mouth. (Which is one reason we use them as eyes and a mouth at the top of the show.) I wanted to give a sense of a world that was a graveyard of all that once had lived, but also had a sense of longing for a new utopia. And of course there was the film noir influence, which I know also influenced the movie, though I think in a very different way. I wanted it to recall the 1950s, in my mind a great era of pulp SF and detective fiction, the sort of stuff that I imagine got under Dick’s skin and inspired his writing.
DB: It’s encouraging to see science fiction done in a medium—theater—not normally associated with SF. Do you think theater lends itself to SF, or vice versa?
EE: I adapted and directed a calypso musical version of Cat’s Cradle some years ago, and I loved the experience. I do think that theater is a great venue for science fiction, and not just adaptations but also original work. I also think some of the greatest classics of theater have elements of SF, but in theater, as in publishing, sometimes people make arbitrary distinctions. Certainly fantasy is an ongoing theme: What is Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest if not a type of SF? Or a play like Rhinoceros? Or the fantasies of Aristophanes? Or The Golem? I know my own original work often has implicit or explicit SF content. Yes, theater is not often set specifically in the future, though I can easily imagine Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But of course we have moved well beyond the point where the future defines SF. Many years ago, Gilliam set Brazil “Somewhere in the 20th century.” Somewhere in the 21st century seems as good a location as any for a number of contemporary theater works.
DB: Thank you for your time!
EE: Thank you for your questions!