“When I read it again, it was less about the romance and so much more about the collapse of Southern society and the economy,” says Landau, 40, who coincidentally portrayed a young Atlanta woman obsessed with GWTW in The Last Night of Ballyhoo at the MTC Warehouse in 2000.
At the time the world economy had crashed, and Landau and her husband were feeling it. Their savings took a huge hit in the market collapse and they lost much of their financial security.
“That’s when I felt I had something to say about Gone With the Wind,” says Landau, who returned to Winnipeg for the first full runthroughs this weekend. “I thought it was about the cost of surviving. For Margaret Mitchell, it was about what kind of people survive (the Civil War) and which ones don’t.”
At the outset of re-imagining GWTW for the stage, she listed all the iconic scenes that had to be in her adaptation. It was quite a list and reflected the fact it had never been presented in less than 3½ hours. Then the question became how to frame them.
“One of the major choices I made was deciding this is not a story about the Civil War, isn’t a story about Rhett and Scarlett, even though he is critically important,” she says. “It’s really Scarlett’s story. Once you make that decision, then you follow her and it’s very rare you are not with her.”
Landau concentrated on what the trauma of the war had done to the everresilient Scarlett — why she never feels like she has enough money and suffers recurring nightmares about an indefinable threat. The writer saw the parallels with family members who had lived through the Great Depression and had many of the same worries, bad dreams and predilection for carrying food around in their pockets.
“I thought it was time for a re-interpretation,” she says. “Every generation thinks Gone With the Wind was written for them. Margaret Mitchell thought she was writing for people in the 1920s.”
The story of a nation cut in two by war — its conquered cities reduced to rubble and its humbled elite left hungry — never loses its relevance, as reflected in the book’s sales of 30 million. It still sells about 50,000 copies annually and is a cultural phenomenon in countries as unlikely as totalitarian North Korea.
“So many people can relate to the theme of survival,” says Wiley, over the telephone from Richmond, Va., the one-time capital of the Confederate States of America. “Margaret Mitchell got a lot of letters, especially after World War II, from people who lived through the bombing of London and thought if Scarlett O’Hara could survive, so could they. It just inspires people.”
Wiley is coming to Winnipeg for the opening- and secondnight performances (as well as to speak at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday) and will write a review for The Scarlett Letter and its 450 subscribers. A female Windy from Texas is also headed here for the show.
“January in Winnipeg is causing a few people to pause,” says Wiley, whose collection of 10,000 pieces of GWTW memorabilia includes a signed first edition, the original printing plate of the dust jacket of the book and over 800 editions of the novel, the latest from Ethiopia.
“But it’s the first in North America and I’m looking forward to it. I have great hopes for it.”
Above, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in the familiar film;
inset, the failed British stage production.