Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

“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.

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