By Richard Russo
March 9, 2004
Mohawk, Richard Russo’s 1986 novel, has—for the very first time—been adapted for the stage. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author granted permission to write an adaptation to the NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany theatre professor W. Langdon Brown.
Mohawk is the story of an upstate New York manufacturing town that suffers from low economic activity, high unemployment, and polluted water. The characters of the play, like the novel, are trapped in less-than-satisfactory circumstances, all of them victims of failed ambitions, bad habits, and unhappy family lives, as well as petty feuds with their neighbors.
"Nearly every one of these people . . . has suffered some sort of terrible loss," observed Michiko Kakutani in a review of the novel that appeared in the New York Times. Kakutani judged the novel, Russo’s first, to be "immensely readable and sympathetic… a novel that attests to its author’s considerable ambition and talent. Mr. Russo has an instinctive gift for capturing the rhythms of small-town life." The Boston Globe called Russo "a master craftsman" and said that "The blue-collar heartache at the center of his fiction has the sheen of Dickens but the epic levity of John Irving."
Novelist Richard Russo is renowned for his depiction of working class life in abandoned mill towns in upstate New York and northern New England— many of them believed to be modeled after the town he grew up in, Gloversville, New York. He is regarded by several leading critics as the most important writer about "Main St, USA" since Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis.
Russo’s recent best-selling novel, Empire Falls (2001, Knopf) won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. The novel is set in a former logging and textile town in Maine. Russo’s earlier novels include The Risk Pool (1988), which is also set in Mohawk, NY; Straight Man (1997), a story of academic politics set in a rural Pennsylvania college town; and Nobody’s Fool (1993), which is set in the failing New York spa town of North Bath. Nobody’s Fool provided the basis for a major 1994 motion picture starring Paul Newman, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy and Bruce Willis, and received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Screenplay.
Russo also co-wrote the screenplay of another Paul Newman film, Twilight (1988), co-starring Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, and Reese Witherspoon. His teleplay Flamingo Rising (2000), was produced by the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
Kathryn Long, a former NEA directing fellow, has directed in regional theatres throughout the country including PlayMakers Rep, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Louisville's Stage One. Last winter she directed Dana Yeaton's adaptation of another popular novel, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian for Knoxville's Clarence Brown Theatre.
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.