Word for Word founders Susan Harloe and JoAnne Winter agree that they “scored” the rights to “Olive Kitteridge,” the Pultizer Prize-winning book of linked short stories by Elizabeth Strout.
This week, the acclaimed San Francisco theater troupe known for presenting short works of fiction literally as they’re written on the page, brings two of the book’s stories, “Tulips” and “River,” to Z Space at Theater Artaud this week.
“We wanted to show the arc, which is tricky to do in two stories,” Harloe says.
Noting that the production will “go from dark to light” in a piece directed by longtime Word for Word collaborator Joel Mullennix and starring Patricia Silver as the title character, Winter and Harloe describe the process of bringing “Olive Kitteridge” to the stage as “not easy,” but ultimately rewarding.
“I heard about the book from a woman in my sister-in-law’s gym, before Strout got the Pulitzer,” Harloe says, noting that “it kept cropping up” as material that would be perfect for Word for Word.
According to Winter, the company is drawn to writing that is evocative, with juicy language, a fun story and a narrative that can be shared among the characters: “You would think the story would have to have a lot of dialogue, but it doesn’t. It just needs to be something that can be activated.”
They started searching for the rights, and thought they might be derailed when Frances McDormand made a deal with HBO to produce and star as the title character in an ensemble drama based on the stories, which are set in a fishing town in Maine.
Staying in touch with Strout’s agent, who was “nice, courteous and trying to help out,” they prevailed, thanks, at least in part, to excellent references from big-time writers who have liked what Word for Word did with their stories. Amy Tan, Tobias Wolff and John Sayles are among those who champion the company.
Due to the different natures of the art forms at hand, Harloe and Winter aren’t worried about competing with the TV project — “it can only help us and in our little way we can help them,” Harloe says — and believe that one positive goal of both presentations is simply to get more people to read the book.
Winter and Harloe emphasize that the story is for people of all ages, calling Strout “such a human writer.” They add, “We have such a reverence for writers. They’re our rock stars.”
The pair, pleased to be in their inaugural season with Z Space, a group dedicated to fostering innovative local theater, also is looking forward upcoming projects: a Nov. 1 staged reading at the Jewish Community Center of works by Lydia Davis, and, in March, a production of Andrew Sean Greer’s “The Islanders.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Word for Word
Where: Z Space, Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays–Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 26
Tickets: $20 to $40
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.zspace.org