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Ursula Le Guin's 'The Left Hand of Darkness' Takes the Stage at the Portland Playhouse

OPB | May 13, 2013 7 a.m.

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The concept of gender has been a popular focal point in science-fiction stories. Works by Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler often challenged perceptions of gender and sexuality, and Ursula K. Le Guin placed gender and sexuality at the fore of her storytelling in her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

(Left to Right) Ursula Le Guin with Hand2Mouth Theatre Artistic Director Johnathan Walters, Dramaturg Jessie Drake and Host Dave Miller

(Left to Right) Ursula Le Guin with Hand2Mouth Theatre Artistic Director Johnathan Walters, Dramaturg Jessie Drake and Host Dave Miller

Michael Clapp / OPB

Forty-four years after the publication of the book, Hand2mouth Theatre and Portland Playhouse have brought a new play based on Le Guin’s groundbreaking novel to the stage. Like many novels in the genre, The Left Hand of Darkness creates its own complex worlds and cultures. The plot revolves around a world called Winter, inhabited by people who are potentially bi-gendered or “ambisexual,” meaning they have no expressed gender except for once a month when they mate.

Genly Ai, one of the novel’s main characters, is an envoy to Winter from Earth. He tries to both understand this foreign world and get its leader to join a political alliance.

(Left to Right) Usrula Le Guin with cast members Allison Tigard and Damian Thompson

(Left to Right) Usrula Le Guin with cast members Allison Tigard and Damian Thompson

Michael Clapp / OPB

During a live broadcast from the Portland Playhouse, Think Out Loud host Dave Miller had a chance to talk with Le Guin and the actors and producers that are bringing her work to life on stage.

When asked about what it was like to see her work adapted into a play, Le Guin said she felt a balance between contributing ideas and letting go.

“Once it began being enacted, I [was] always full of suggestions, but mostly it’s just kind of strange to see people who were simply pictures in my mind become living beings,” said Le Guin. “It’s very strange and quite wonderful.

“It beats movies.”

The Left Hand of Darkness runs through June 2, 2013 at the Portland Playhouse.

Listen to Think Out Loud’s full conversation with Ursula K. Le Guin and the cast

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