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A New Play Marks a Long-Awaited Coronation

Leslie Epstein on adapting “King of the Jews” for the Playwrights’ Theatre


When Leslie Epstein, director of BU’s Creative Writing Program, first set out to adapt his novel King of the Jews for the stage, he thought the process would be simple. “I cut out everything but the dialogue,” he says.

But Epstein, who began the process of turning his novel into a play more than 20 years ago, soon found that adaptation wasn’t so easy — particularly for a novel with a cast of 25 characters and a complex plot concerning the Judenrat, the councils of Jews forced to govern and discipline their own people in the Nazi ghettos of Poland.

Now, nearly three decades after its 1979 publication, King of the Jews is coming to the stage at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (BPT). In a collaboration with BPT artistic director Kate Snodgrass (GRS’91) and director Jon Lipsky, a College of Fine Arts professor, Epstein has focused on two critical points of his novel — the formation of the Judenrat and the councils’ first actions — and in doing so, has brought the piece to the stage for the first time as a fully formed play.

Epstein spoke with BU Today about the process of adapting King of the Jews for the Playwrights’ Theatre. Click the slide show above to listen.

King of the Jews runs through March 10 at the Boston University Theatre’s Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. on Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. The evening performance on Saturday, February 24, begins at 7 p.m. and features a talk-back with Leslie Epstein. Discounted tickets are available for BU students, faculty, and staff. For more information, call 617-353-5443 or visit the BPT Web site.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.