Compiled by Aaron Retherford
Much like author Howard Frank Mosher, Kim Allen Bent—founder of Lost Nation Theater—is intimately connected to the Vermont landscape, having grown up on a dairy farm in Braintree as a seventh-generation Vermonter. On October 4, Bent unveils his world-premiere adaptation of Howard Frank Mosher’s novel, Disappearances. Here, Bent discusses the challenges and joys of adapting Mosher’s work and words to the stage.
Aaron Retherford: Why Mosher and why this book?
Kim Allen Bent: Howard Frank Mosher (HFM) has told some of the most authentic stories about Vermont that there are to tell. His characters are theatrical, his sense of humor is wonderful, and he has a wonderful instinct for the quirky complexity of human nature. Disappearances is the first HFM novel that I read. I love the characters, the profound perspective, and sense of humor—the way it is at once realistic and mythic. It was written the year I founded Lost Nation Theater (LNT), so it seemed like the place to start. Also, it’s a good antidote for challenging times. The main characters embody a sense of optimism that can defeat any discouragement.
How long have you wanted to write a stage adaptation of Disappearances?
Bent: I never really thought seriously of doing a translation of Mosher for the stage because so many of his stories have been made into movies. But then I was inspired to take on the challenge because producing artistic director [and wife] Kathleen Keenan had so much faith in the possibilities. LNT is committed to telling Vermont stories, and it was time to take on telling another playwriting project. It’s the first time anyone’s ever been given permission to do a stage “translation” and that’s pretty humbling. Phillis Mosher (Howard’s widow) and his kids will be with us for the opening celebration on October 5, and we’re all very excited.
What restrictions does the stage impose and what opportunities does it bring?
Bent: I think that doing it on the stage makes it possible to bring out the playful innocence at the heart of it. It’s one element of the book that the stage is uniquely suited to showcase. Another element the stage highlights is the poetic quality of the prose. There’s a lot of opportunity on the stage to relish that language and the elevated reality that language makes possible. As for challenges, you have to find a way to make the limitation of the stage a strength. I mean you can’t bring Lake Memphremagog inside; you can’t actually blow up, burn down, or otherwise explode material objects like cars, barns, planes, and boats–even if the fire station is right next door. Structurally, as you’re creating the play, you have to find a convention that will allow that action to be communicated in some way that leave the building you’re in, in our case City Hall, intact.
How do you decide what to include and what to cut?
Bent: I let the story tell me what was important to include and what was OK to leave out. The major creative choices I made in writing the play had to do with restructuring the material in the book in a way that would have an effective dramatic arc for the two-hour time period on the stage. One of Mosher’s values is to know where people came from—how they evolved into the character they are. Certainly, as a Vermonter, that resonates for me. Mosher’s characters are like poet and playwright David Budbill’s characters in their resiliency, in their ability to survive challenging circumstances, be it poverty, harsh climate, isolation. Faced with those challenges, they have to be inventive, ingenious, and there’s something attractive and admirable about that indomitable spirit.
When did you start working on this?
Bent: We had the idea earlier, but I didn’t put pen to paper until January of this year. We did two readings of the script along the way, and I shared the script with trusted colleagues to get their feedback and ideas for how we could pull this off.
Have there been any surprises as it has come together?
Bent: I’ve been surprised by the playfulness of it. When you read the book, the mythic literary connections come through, and it reads like an entertaining tall tale. When you translate that to the stage, it becomes a kind of playful innocence that is really entertaining. It’s been fun to experience the actors getting in touch with that sense of play.
Why should people come see this?
Bent: Because as many people as possible need to experience the unique world of Mosher’s imagination. Because we need to savor, and learn from, our past and celebrate this place that is our home—that is Vermont.
Disappearances by Kim Allen Bent from the novel by Howard Frank Mosher runs October 4‒21 at Lost Nation Theater, Montpelier City Hall. Curtain is 7:30 pm Thursday‒Saturday and 2 pm Sunday. For more information and tickets, call (802) 229-0492 or visit lostnationtheater.org