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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2004

William Faulkner lives on through play, future movie

July 28, 2004

John Maxwell as Faulkner in a publicity photo for ‘Oh, Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write?’

OXFORD, Miss. — The critically acclaimed one-man show based on the life of Oxford’s most famous resident paid a visit to the University of Mississippi July 26-28 for four rare free performances.

Mississippi native and UM alumnus John Maxwell performed Oh, Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write? in the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Rehearsal Hall. The production coincides with the 2004 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, on the UM campus July 25-29.

Maxwell, who conceived of and co-wrote the play, first performed the role of William Faulkner in 1981 at Jackson’s New Stage Theater. Since then, the actor has delivered hundreds of performances of Oh, Mr. Faulkner to colleges, universities, arts councils and theaters across the United States, including New York’s the Bottom Line and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He has also taken his show to a dozen foreign countries.

In bringing the play to Oxford, Maxwell is accomplishing a goal of allowing even more Faulknerphiles, students and theater lovers access into the Nobel laureate's psyche. Maxwell and his business partner, Jimbo Burnett, filmed the Oxford performances to create a movie version of the play, which they will market through their company, Maxbo Productions.

In addition to filming Maxwell’s stage performances, whose set was based on Faulkner’s office at Rowan Oak, the production company also did some location shooting at Rowan Oak and elsewhere in the region.

Maxwell said he hopes to market the production to colleges, universities, high school libraries, PBS and such commercial TV networks as A&E.

“We hope to have it done by the fall of 2004,” Maxwell said. “Several people are interested in distribution, and it’s amazing how many people’s ears perk up when you mention Faulkner. It’s also amazing how many famous people love Faulkner, which works to our advantage.”

If the play itself is any indication, a film version will no doubt be well received.

“John Maxwell’s done a marvelous job of culling prose from Faulkner’s work, letters and interviews into a single, unified expression,” said Don Kartiganer, holder of UM’s Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies and professor of English. “The play is both moving and informative, because it lets you get a sense of how this particular man, living where and when he did, came to write this particular corpus of work.”

Set in the 1950s, soon after Faulkner won the Nobel Prize, the play uses the writer’s own words, flashing back as far as the 1920s, to “give us William Faulkner the man in a rewarding evening of theater,” as Eudora Welty, Faulkner’s friend — and one of the first people to read a draft of the play — put it.

The title refers to a famous (and possibly apocrpyal) exchange Faulkner had with Hollywood actor Clark Gable during the 1930s when Faulkner was a screenwriter in Hollywood. While on a hunting trip with Gable and film director Howard Hawks, Gable asked Faulkner who he thought were the best writers then living.

When Faulkner included himself in his reply, Gable reportedly said, “Oh, Mr. Faulkner, do you write?”

“Yes, Mr. Gable,” Faulkner said. “What do you do?”

“It’s like having Faulkner walking around stage and talking,” Kartiganer said. “Faulkner was a great role-player all his life — he played the role of dandy, farmer, bohemian, veteran fighter pilot. I seriously doubt he would have imagined someone playing the role of him.”

But most likely William Faulkner is a role Maxwell had little choice in playing; the actor has said he “became obsessed” with the writer after reading his first Faulkner novel, a gift to him during his 20s. Maxwell has said, too, that he hopes through his performances, and now through the film, he’s creating some new Faulkner obsessions.

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