The Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Redwood Curtain is based on a Broadway play. It was also released in 1995. With these facts in mind, I found Redwood Curtain to be the perfect subject for the Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon. Prior to this event, I saw the movie and read the play. This lent itself to an interesting idea. Discussions about film adaptations often feature films adapted from books, short stories, or poems. Movies born from plays aren’t often included in the conversation. So, I decided to write an editorial highlighting the similarities and differences between the Redwood Curtain play and film. This article contains spoilers for the story of Redwood Curtain.
On the stage, Redwood Curtain contains three characters: Lyman, Geri, and Geneva. While there are other characters in the story, they’re only mentioned within the dialogue. Geri’s father, Laird, is one of these characters. According to the script, Laird was a desk-jockey lieutenant in the Vietnam War. This means he “didn’t see a day’s fighting, to come completely unglued in the war.” Laird taught Geri how to play the piano simply to entertain dinner guests. He also developed a dependence on alcohol and died two years prior to the play’s events. Laird is even described as a “drunk.” Because Laird never physically appears in the play, all the information about him is hearsay.
John Lithgow portrays Laird in the film adaptation. The film version of Laird did fight in the Vietnam War, though his specific role was never mentioned. Like in the play, he develops a dependence on alcohol. However, this dependence was Laird’s attempt to cope with war-related trauma. Toward the end of the movie, Geneva shares with Geri how Laird wanted to be a pianist, but didn’t feel he was talented enough. So, he became invested in Geri’s piano career, appearing to live vicariously through his daughter. His presence in the movie shows the audience the strained, yet close relationship between Geri and Laird. Laird’s death within the film’s first half and Geri’s discovery that Laird is her biological father are presented as bittersweet moments.
Expanding the World
The majority of Redwood Curtain’s story in the play takes place in Arcata’s redwood forest. A few scenes happen in Geneva’s house, Geneva’s car, or a local coffee house. Geri’s first encounter with Lyman is when the play starts, with the lead-up to this moment woven into the dialogue. Events such as Laird’s death take place off stage, prior to the play’s story. The creative team behind a play is given a limited amount of space and time to work with. Therefore, designating a few key locations makes sense among these limitations. In the Redwood Curtain play, Geneva’s house is described as “a large and very fine Victorian house.” The script states her house contains a music room as well. When presenting this play at a theater, only the home’s sitting room and music room would be staged and the style of the house would be heavily implied through décor and set structure.
A plus side to film-making is the freedom to take the story wherever the film-maker chooses. If a movie’s creative team desires to adapt a stage play, that story has the opportunity to grow beyond the boundaries of a stage. In the case of the Redwood Curtain film, the events from the play are contained in the story’s second half. That means the movie’s first half takes place in and around the Riordan family home. This inclusion not only expands the world the characters exist in, but also gives the audience a glimpse into Geri’s world that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Filming on location provides benefits to visual storytelling. However, that creative decision has its own limitations. Using Geneva’s house in the movie as an example, a location scout might not be able to secure a location similar to one described in the source material. Even if they succeeded, there’s a process in order to film at a residential building, especially if it’s someone’s real-life home. That’s probably why Geneva’s house is presented as a smaller log cabin with a large deck, but no music room.
In both the play and movie, Geri attempts to search for her biological father. This attempt is the story’s main conflict. Geri’s reason for her search was different in each version of Redwood Curtain. In the play, Geri knew some information about her past. Prior to the start of the play, Geri discovered Lyman tried to help her and her biological mother get to the United States. The script mentions that Geri began her search when she was twelve. Her search turns into an obsession, to the point of abandoning her musical endeavors. In fact, the play’s synopsis states Redwood Curtain “is a story of obsession and discovery.” Though the information Geri received was partly true, she eventually learns more through her interactions with Lyman.
The movie version of Geri has three motives for her search. Wanting to receive answers about her past was the first motive. The film’s script heavily implies Geri did not know much about her past until the events of the movie. Yes, she was aware she was adopted. But Geri’s belief that Lyman was her biological father stemmed from a photo and a note bearing the name ‘Raymond Farrow’ that Laird gave his daughter after he died. At various moments in the movie, Geri expresses how she feels she doesn’t belong. She even shares these thoughts with the Riordan’s house-keeper, Matilda. These feelings fuel Geri’s journey of self-discovery and finding her biological family. Her third and final motive is her music, which plays a crucial role in Geri’s life. Geri’s believes if she finds her biological father, she will be able to incorporate more emotion into her musical pieces.
Significance of the Redwoods
As I’ve said before on my blog, a film’s title can serve as a promise to the audience. In the case of Redwood Curtain, the audience should expect not only to see redwoods, but also to receive an explanation of what the “redwood curtain” is. The “redwood curtain,” in both the play and movie, is the redwood forest itself, where Vietnam veterans choose to live their lives. This is one of the reasons Geri meets with Lyman in the forest. While Geri learns about the “redwood curtain” in each version of the story, the way she learns about it is different. An Arcata Union reporter provides the explanation for the “redwood curtain” to Geri in the play. In the movie, she is given this same explanation by a gentleman working at Arcata’s veterans’ office.
As I mentioned above, the majority of Redwood Curtain’s story in the play takes place in Arcata’s redwood forest. The redwood forest in the movie only appears in the story’s second half. Because of how often or little this location appears in the story, its association with the characters and the themes connected to it depend on these appearances. Topics relating to the environment are brought up throughout the play. When Lyman asks Geri why she’s visiting Arcata, she tells him she’s studying horticulture and botany at the local college. Geri also claims to have magical powers, which allow her to do things such as control the weather. Within the play, Geneva talks about how her family’s portion of the redwood forest is being bought out by investors. While this part of the story is also in the movie, it is discussed in more detail in the play, from Geneva bringing up the specifics of the sale itself to describing Arcata’s weather. The theme of family connects with the redwood forest in the movie. The Riordan family owns a portion of the redwood forest. While Geri stays at Geneva’s house, Geneva shows her niece a wall of family photos. These photos showcase various members of the Riordan family in the redwood forest. The number of photos and whether or not the photos are in black-and-white indicate how the forest has been in the family for generations.
Wellbeing of Veterans
When I brought up the movie version of Laird, I mentioned how he depended on alcohol to cope with war-related trauma. I also mentioned how Geri learns about the “redwood curtain” at Arcata’s veterans’ office. These are just two examples of how the movie includes the subject of veterans’ well-being. In the history of Hallmark films, veterans have been presented with a sense of reverence and respect. Veteran-related issues have also been included in Hallmark’s programming. An example is a veteran struggling with trauma in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Lost Without You. Even though the film adaptation of Redwood Curtain was released a decade before Hallmark debuted the Hallmark Channel, this tradition can be seen and felt in this Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. At Laird’s funeral, Geri shares with Geneva how she wished the family had addressed Laird’s alcohol dependency sooner. Geneva reminds her niece how Laird had a problem related to his experiences in the war. Geri says the family’s politeness and willingness to skirt the issue are what enabled Laird’s struggles. The points Geri makes to her aunt highlight how seriously these topics are taken in this adaptation.
While veteran-related issues are brought up in the play, it was never enough to be one of the story’s main topics. Compared to the movie, there isn’t the same amount of reverence for veterans. During her first interaction with Lyman, Geri’s personality is pessimistic and bitter. When Lyman asks Geri about the translation of her hometown’s name, Geri responds by saying, “Well, you’re not Spanish. You must belong to the other half of the country’s population.” After Geri learns Laird was her biological father, she says, “You’re right, Lyman, he was the saddest man I’ve ever known.” Geri also says, “And I thought I was joking when I said to follow in my father’s footsteps I had to mope and pine and drink myself to death. Not a very promising path he’s laid out for me to follow.” With the way veterans’ well-being wasn’t addressed, it made the play seem less hopeful. It also seemed like none of the characters were willing to find any solutions.
Lyman, Geri, and Geneva
As mentioned above, I said Lyman, Geri, and Geneva were the only three characters to physically appear in the play. These three characters also serve prominent roles in the movie. Geri’s personality in the play was pessimistic and bitter. She was also disrespectful when talking to Lyman or talking about Laird. In the movie, however, Geri was a more empathetic character. While interacting with Matilda in the Riordan family kitchen, Laird recalls a memory of Geri when she was younger. In this memory, Laird was tearing up as he was chopping onions. Upon seeing this, Geri asks if Laird is sad because the onions are hurt.
Lyman, in both the play and movie, shares parts of his life story with Geri. In the play, though, more of this information is given. Toward the end of the movie, Lyman tells Geri how, before the war, he would fix and race cars with his dad. He also talks about how he never dated a crush he had. Lyman in the play not only drag-raced vehicles, he also worked in his dad’s garage. He recalls owning a Mustang Boss 302 and never having a girlfriend. Geneva’s family’s portion of the redwood forest was being bought out by investors. As a result of this, Geneva, in the play, is planning on moving to Key Biscayne, Florida, with her husband, Barney. In the movie, however, Geneva expresses no interest in moving out of Arcata. In fact, after one of Geri’s piano performances, Geneva tells Laird how she plans on fighting to keep her land. She and Barney are also divorced.
After I watched and read Redwood Curtain, I ended up liking the movie adaptation over the source material. What worked in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation’s favor was how the story was expanded. Not only were more locations added to the characters’ world, more context was given than the play provided. Even though there were more characters added to the film, the cast as a whole was smaller. Through their interactions, the audience gets a more intimate look into the characters’ relationships. The changes to the characters from the play made them more likable, especially Geri. Both the screenwriting and acting allowed Geri to be one of the strongest protagonists in Hallmark movie history. Redwood Curtain reminded me of another Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on a play: The Boys Next Door. Similar to Redwood Curtain, The Boys Next Door contained multiple locations and provided context to each of the key characters. Since I have seen the 1996 adaptation, but have never read the play, perhaps another comparison and contrast editorial is in order.
Have fun at the movies!