To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

By Adele Edling Shank
Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf
Music composed by Paul Dresher
Directed by Les Waters
Limited Season · Roda Theatre
February 23–March 25, 2007
World Premiere

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Last season, director Les Waters gave Bay Area audiences a breathtaking production of The Glass Menagerie. Now the Obie Award-winning director reflects upon another family with To the Lighthouse, a world-premiere adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s landmark novel. Waters and his cast bring Woolf’s incandescent characters to life on stage, and a live string quartet uses brilliant new music by Paul Dresher to further illuminate the Ramsay house. Here, a couple lives, loves and endures; children play, fight and grow; and a painter struggles to capture the transient beauty of daily life.

Creative team

Adele Edling Shank · Playwright
Paul Dresher · Composer
Les Waters · Director
Annie Smart · Scenic Design
Christal Weatherly · Costume Design
Matt Frey · Lighting Design
Darron L. West · Sound Design
Jedediah Ike · Video Design
Madeleine Oldham · Dramaturg
Lynne Soffer · Dialect Coach
Lynne Morrow · Singing Coach
Elizabeth Moreau · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Janet Foster · New York Casting


Whitney Bashor · Prue / Adult Cam
Noah James Butler · Paul Rayley
Monique Fowler · Mrs. Ramsay
Sophie Gabel-Scheinbaum · Young Cam
Edmond Genest · Mr. Ramsay
Lauren Grace · Minta Doyle / Mrs. McNabb
Clifton Guterman · Andrew / Adult James
Jack Indiana · Young James
David Mendelsohn · Charles Tansley
Jarion Monroe · William Bankes
Amara Radetsky · Young Cam
Gabriel Stephens-Siegler · Young James
Rebecca Watson · Lily Briscoe


Alex Kelly · Cello
Charith Premawardhana · Viola
Justin Mackewich · 1st Violin
Sarah Jo Zaharako · 2nd Violin

“Les Waters’ brilliantly orchestrated staging of Adele Edling Shank’s canny adaptation of one of the greatest chapters in 20th century literature lights up Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre…Lovingly prepared and served to perfection by all…It’s a dish to be savored for years to come.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Lighthouse shines…Director Waters’ command of multimedia combined with the adept efforts of his cast create an invigorating, captivating theater experience…Woolf’s complex prose has been necessarily simplified for the stage, but the actors, especially Rebecca Watson as spinster painter Lily Briscoe and David Mendelsohn as testy scholar Charles Tansley, cast shadows that, like so many pieces of this show, feel authentically Woolfish.”—Oakland Tribune

“Shot through with flashes of genius…Like the novel, the play has an essentially experimental soul. It takes thrillingly big risks that push the act of viewing into a new realm…The play approaches performance art, a multimedia concert that encompasses text, music and video but is bounded by none of them. There is something revelatory in the dissonance.”—San Jose Mercury News

“Breathtakingly wonderful. A true multimedia show, the play pushes the rules of theater in various new directions by blending dialogue, sound, scene, music and even silence into a captivating evening that not only sheds considerable light on life on the island, but manages to look at Woolf’s material in a fresh and innovative new light…Not only an evocative piece of storytelling, but a unique piece of art.”—Contra Costa Times

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Daring to brave uncharted waters

Like all great artists, Virginia Woolf dared to experiment. Blessed with extraordinary intelligence and a fervent spirit, she spent her life challenging conventional wisdom on every topic ranging from culture to gender. All her literary endeavors (she was a prolific novelist, essayist and literary critic) exhibit a fierce intellectual appetite and a desire to unmask the assumptions behind social custom. She wanted to separate the information we inherit about ourselves from our capacity to become our true selves. In a very real sense, she was a free thinker.

In To the Lighthouse, her breakthrough novel published in 1927, Woolf explores the history of an English family during a ten-year period spanning World War I. Plunging fearlessly into the matrix of human consciousness, Woolf uses different narrative techniques to reflect on the nature of time, loss and the possibility of redemption. She not only wants to tell you that time has passed, she wants to create the actual experience of time passing; she not only wants to describe how people behave, she wants to verbally articulate the dialogue of their subconscious; she not only wants to expose how the characters think, she wants to meditate on the nature of thought itself.

Adapting To the Lighthouse for the stage is an experiment worthy of Woolf’s great legacy. How does one dramatize a book whose goal is to preserve a sense of interiority? How does one simulate a passage of ten years? How does one find a unique theatrical language that does justice to Woolf’s original cadences and images? Playwright Adele Edling Shank, director Les Waters and composer Paul Dresher have teamed up to conduct their own experiment. Using their own stable of considerable imaginative resources, they have attacked the project with fearlessness and verve.

Experimentation in the arts is not encouraged in these times. The financial pressure of our marketplace is enormous, and combined with an increasing desire to see work that is familiar, easily digestible or enhanced by star-power, the ability of theatres of our size to produce challenging plays has diminished. A cursory look at the work being offered nationwide tells a tale of increasing timidity on the part of producers. We sometimes feel afraid ourselves, but we choose to rely on you, our audience, and your continued support of our efforts to take true artistic risks. We stand with you in our desire to be fascinated by the unknown, by our desire to be surprised, by the hunger to know not only who we are, but who we dare to be.

Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

Target® Story Builders

One of the most vivid endorsements of Berkeley Rep’s Target® Story Builders program came from a third grade boy in Alameda’s Haight Elementary School, who volunteered that “this is even better than recess.” While his unabashed enthusiasm made me smile, what made me equally pleased was the effectiveness with which Berkeley Rep’s teaching artist Gendell Hernández had introduced this young boy and his classmates to the basic building blocks of good writing: plot, character, environment, dialogue and action. Along the way, he had engaged the kids in the fine art of collaborative problem-solving, he had reinforced the importance of honoring their teachers and he had given every one of those third graders the opportunity to be applauded by their peers for a job well done. Who among us doesn’t thrive with just a little bit of applause?

Here at Berkeley Rep we are proud that we can do our part to help educate the children of our community. We think we’ve got reason to be proud. Target® Story Builders was designed by the staff in our School of Theatre to address arts and language requirements for elementary school children as defined by the California State Board of Education. With the help of Target and Union Bank of California, this program has provided training in more than 400 classrooms in just two years.

Target® Story Builders is just one of the many educational programs Berkeley Rep offers for children and adults throughout the Bay Area. In a single year, our programs will touch more than 17,000 students from nine counties and our teaching artists will clock over 103,000 contact hours.

Berkeley Rep works with schools because we believe we have a responsibility, as members of this community, to participate in the education of our children. After all, the education of our youth is a reflection of the ambition of our country. At minimum, we rely on our schools to train our country’s workforce. However, the challenges of a functional democracy demand that education be so much more. Berkeley Rep has offered programs in the schools for more than 20 years because we believe the values that are taught through exposure to the arts are the values that strengthen our country. What Berkeley Rep’s school programs strive to impart are the same values that inform our adult programming: the value of critical thinking, the open-minded exploration of “other” points of view, the exercise of compassion and the delight in “knowing more.”

Berkeley Rep is also proud to welcome over 1,400 subscribers who also work in K–12 education. We are so thrilled that our new program for educators has met with such warm response. We applaud your work in our schools and we will continue to do our part to help you educate the next generation of great thinkers.


Susan Medak

To the Lighthouse: Pushing the boundaries of form

By Madeleine Oldham

From her earliest days as a writer, Virginia Woolf felt confined by the form of the novel. She believed that contemporary fiction purported to represent a realistic picture of life, while moving farther and farther away from actually doing so. The publishing industry had recently undergone an explosion in popularity: manufacturing skyrocketed during the Victorian period, leading to history’s first large-scale mass-production of printed materials and consequently ushering in a new era for fiction. Books’ newfound low cost, easy access and mass appeal created a consumer-driven demand for digestibility with which writers did not previously have to contend. Victorian fiction focused heavily on plot and action, neither of which, in Woolf’s opinion, moved one closer to a novel’s ultimate goal: to capture the essence of what it means to be human. Focusing on event and circumstance allowed a reader to keep moving forward without any time for reflection, thus creating a superficial idea of what life was supposed to be, but discounting the real substance of what lies under that surface.

In her 1919 essay entitled “Modern Fiction,” Woolf wrote:

The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?

Woolf spoke often of the need to capture the “spirit of life” on the page, and felt that plot-focused storytelling could not do this successfully. She also knew that neither her strengths nor her interests lay in crafting a plot with surprises around every corner, so she chose to focus instead on characters and their internal worlds in order to try and engage her urge to create an expansive, breathing novel. The manifestation of Woolf’s desire came to be called “stream-of-consciousness writing.”

The expression “stream of consciousness” entered the mainstream in 1890 with publication of William James’ influential textbook, The Principles of Psychology. Literature quickly adopted the term, using it to describe a style of writing where characters’ thoughts are expressed without regard to chronology in an attempt to mirror what goes on inside people’s minds. This kind of random association of ideas and feelings could even disregard syntax, prominently illustrated by Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses (which Woolf admired greatly), where 35 pages consist of seven sentences.

Sometimes called a genre unto itself, other times simply a technique, stream of consciousness literature found its home during the modernist movement of the 20th century. Modernism developed in response to the frustration of artists and intellectuals working within the confines of Victorian tradition, and their desire to create new ways of interacting with the world around them. The movement continued to develop in reaction to what transpired politically as the 20th century progressed, most notably the two world wars. Virginia Woolf hit her stride in the midst of the modernist explosion—1910–1930. To the Lighthouse, written in 1927, along with Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and The Waves (1931) represent her most comprehensive illustrations of stream of consciousness writing. Today she is considered to be not only a pioneer but a master of this experimental form, along with Joyce and Faulkner.

Woolf often writes obliquely—she evokes something without directly stating anything. She assumes a certain level of participation and complicity in her readers. When Mr. Ramsay thunders around the garden booming, “Someone had blundered!” Woolf never states directly that he is repeating a line from Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade. Unless one has prior knowledge of the poem, it can be a challenge to figure out that Mr. Ramsay isn’t actually raging at anyone in particular, but rather he is momentarily overtaken by his passion for poetry. Instead of simply reporting his actions, Woolf allows us to glimpse what’s happening inside his mind at that moment, giving her readers the opportunity to truly know her characters in ways that they may never know another human being in real life.

Because the entire novel focuses on the internal workings of its characters (including a section entitled “Time Passes” in which time itself becomes a character), adapting To the Lighthouse for the stage presented a tremendous challenge. Some fiction lends itself quite naturally to becoming a script and though it may involve many difficult decisions about streamlining the plot, what to cut becomes exponentially more difficult when one is dealing in Woolf’s world of thought rather than the world of action. Traditionally, plays, like Victorian novels, rely heavily on plot and event; “Drama” inherently implies conflict between characters. Woolf’s novel also contains very little dialogue, another staple of traditional theatre.

However, just as the modernists refused to be hemmed in by the rules of novelistic convention, playwright Adele Edling Shank follows in their footsteps, fluidly translating Woolf’s story into a stage adaptation that pushes the boundaries of its form. Rather than attempt a purely literal translation from one medium to another, Shank recognized the need to capture on stage that same “spirit of life” that Woolf so painstakingly worked to evoke in her novels. Shank hit upon music as the transformative element that could do this in a live performance. Gradually, as the play progresses, the music shifts from nothing to background to becoming its own character, as Woolf does in the novel with Time. And as the end of the book manifests Time’s meeting with the story’s characters, the end of the play manifests their meeting with Music—lifting the play into a place of metaphor and expansion. Rather than submit to limitations of form, both Woolf and Shank transcend them, each in their own way offering the story an opportunity to soar.

The complicated genius of Virginia Woolf

By Kimberly Weisberg

Innovative, radical and inspiring, Virginia Woolf’s challenging works made her one of the principal literary figures of the 20th century. Her personal life was as provocative as her writing, a combination of bohemian ideals and Victorian high society. But she also suffered greatly, and is widely remembered for her uncontrollable depression and eventual suicide. Her diaries often reveal a deeply sad and troubled woman; she often wrote in her diaries upon completion of a piece of writing, a time when she usually felt nervous and apprehensive. However, she herself stated that “one gets into the habit of recording one particular kind of mood…and of not writing one’s diary when one is feeling the opposite,” and Woolf’s depression was counterbalanced by a zest for life. She was a sensational conversationalist, possessed with a gift for spontaneity and unexpectedness that was uncommon in England at the time, and in her social activities, she was dazzling, whimsical and quite entertaining.

Educated with her sister Vanessa at their Hyde Park Gate home while her brothers were sent off to school, Woolf was the youngest female of nine children, including five stepbrothers and sisters. She was well-loved but not spoiled, and wrote a family newspaper in which she recorded the bustling energy of the family’s life, including detailed accounts of the Sunday Tramps, a group of her father’s literary friends who accompanied the family on its long Sunday morning walks.

Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, read to the family nightly, inspiring a love of literature in Woolf from a young age. He was also, however, relentlessly dedicated to his work as a writer, and was frequently unreasonable, quick-tempered and ill. In contrast to her brash father, Woolf’s mother Julia and half-sister Stella were loving and gentle matriarchs. Woolf suffered the first of her mental breakdowns after their deaths, having lost both women by the time she turned 15. At the time, Woolf was also coping with potentially incestuous advances from her stepbrothers, which contributed to her mental and emotional instability. Nine years later, after her father’s death and Woolf’s subsequent mental collapse, Vanessa, the eldest of the blood-related siblings, moved Woolf and her brothers Thoby and Adrien to a new home in Bloomsbury. This was the first time the four siblings were on their own as a family, a positive step for Woolf; in addition to the freedom of starting anew with her brothers and sister, she finally had her own workroom.

The siblings began to host their own social functions, leading to the formation of the Bloomsbury Group, which started as an informal gathering of a small and select set of recent graduates of Cambridge University. They met weekly at the siblings’ home to discuss art, politics and other world matters, and was a haven for writers, composers, painters and other artistic types, where they could work freely in an enriching and intellectually stimulating environment.

Many people, even some within the group, thought it to be cliquish and snobbish. Most of the group had graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, none of them would consider fighting in the war, all were highly intelligent and creative and there was a very discreet but open and fluid sense of sexuality among members. Several husbands and wives were either bisexual or homosexual, and most considered themselves to be in open relationships, free to become lovers with multiple friends. Members of the Bloomsbury Group were referred to as residents in a glass tower, very closely attached to a lifestyle that was fading away in favor of a working-class society. Outsiders often considered them hypocritical bohemians, who despite their rebellion against the Victorian way of life could not resist Victorian tradition and class systems, evident in their tea parties and exclusivity. The group was also outspoken in their pacifist beliefs, and members were criticized for both their lighthearted attitudes towards war and for rejecting war as a solution to national problems. Critics thought they should have been more publicly available, using their talents to educate the public about world events.

Maintaining that her agenda as a novelist was to accurately represent society, not to change it, Woolf was not interested in political feminism. However, many of her works reflect her support of women. She greatly disliked the male advantage inherent in Victorian society and resented the fact that she was denied a formal education because of her sex. She was expressly in favor of women earning their own wages, which she did not only with the sales of her novels, but as a journalist. In Three Guineas, her most controversial book, she uses speeches by current politicians, official reports and newspaper articles to support her assertion of the unequal treatment of the sexes over the centuries. Men and women alike disagreed with many parts of the book, claiming her facts were unreliable and disagreeing with her generalization of the Christian views of women. Woolf’s passion for sexual equality is particularly apparent in Orlando, her story of a person who lives 350 years and changes sex in the middle of his/her life, and in A Room of One’s Own, in which she states that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf frequently based characters in her novels on friends and family members, but To the Lighthouse was the first in which she strongly committed herself to these characters. It is also her first novel to consciously include characters directly based on her parents, a decision she made in order to both reconnect with fond childhood memories and to finally make peace with their deaths. Considered her most autobiographical novel, the setting and events of To the Lighthouse were inspired by Woolf’s carefree childhood summers at Talland House, her family’s summer home in St. Ives. The beautiful house had a tennis court, kitchen garden, greenhouse, a cove for bathing and a view of the Godrevy lighthouse, as well as frequent visits from family friends and elegant meals hosted by her mother Julia. After Julia’s death, the family stopped their visits to Talland House, but when their father passed away, the siblings returned to the house to reminisce with its current residents about their summers there and talk with those who remembered their parents.

Although she spent much of her life as a successful writer, Woolf’s “madness” (which doctors have since identified as bipolar disorder) was persistent, and she began to recognize the symptoms of another breakdown on March 18, 1941. On March 28, at the age of 59, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse, near her home in Sussex, England. In a letter to her husband Leonard, she wrote:

I feel certain that I am going mad again…And I shan’t recover this time…So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness…If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

Her ability to reflect upon her acute self-awareness enabled her to create intimate portraits of her characters, but it was ultimately that same understanding that would lead to her final breakdown and suicide. Her life was one of extreme pain and joy, and in the years after her death, her reputation has continued to grow as one of the most important and complex writers of our time.



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