Hollywood screenwriters are returning to the stage for inspiration.
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8 Dec 2010 - 10:28 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 8:33 AM

With comic book stores besieged by desperate film studio executives, it appears that an old-fashion idea may be coming back into style: adapting successful stage plays for the screen. Two of the more interesting productions slated for release in 2011 are both based on acclaimed theatrical vehicles, with George Clooney (pictured) snapping up the political drama Farragut North as his next directing venture, while Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts will star in the adaptation of the Pulitzer prize-winning August: Osage County.

Notably, both plays are contemporary. Beau Willimon's Farragut North debuted in New York City in October 2008, while Chicago's esteemed Steppenwolf Theatre Company premiered Tracy Letts' August: Osage County in June 2007 before it moved to Broadway at the end of that year. Each won positive reviews and have already reached Australia, with Melbourne's Red Stitch Theatre Company doing a season of the former earlier this year, while the latter had seasons at the Melbourne Theatre Company (with a knockout central performance by Robyn Nevin) and the Sydney Theatre Company (who hosted the original Chicago cast).

It's easy to see what attracted Clooney, a political junkie, to Farragut North, which has been retitled The Ides of March following his adaptation of the text with regular co-writer Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck). The story concerns a young, hard-charging press secretary for a U.S. Presidential candidate who suffers professional and personal repercussions when he meets with a rival campaign manager and has an affair with an intern. It's a fast-paced moral thriller, with the kind of tart dialogue redolent of David Mamet. Director Clooney may play the candidate (never sighted in the play), while he's cast Ryan Gosling as his lead, Stephen, Paul Giamatti as the operative's rival, Philip Seymour Hoffman as his boss, Marisa Tomei as an industrious reporter and Evan Rachel Wood as the intern.

August: Osage County will be directed by powerhouse television producer John Wells (E.R., The West Wing), whose first feature, the corporate downsizing tale The Company Men, is due for release in American in December. The story of a drug-addicted matriarch whose husband disappears, forcing their dysfunctional children to return to the Oklahoma family home, the darkly comedic play has a heavyweight cast with Streep as the troubled mother, Violet, and Roberts and Laura Linney as two of her daughters.

Letts' play is a successor to classic domestic dramas such as Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, which premiered in 1956 and was directed for the screen by Sidney Lumet with Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson as the leads in 1962. From the 1920s through to the emergence of the counterculture in the late sixties, New York's famed Broadway supplied numerous great works for the movies, whether they be whimsical musicals such as Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady from 1956 or coruscating dramas in the order of Tennessee Willaims' A Streetcar Named Desire, which made Marlon Brando a star upon opening in 1947.

Brando, like several generations of theatrical actors, writers and directors, ended up in Hollywood, but in recent years, the stage has become a destination for film stars looking to do more intimate work and sharpen their craft. Broadway has hosted everyone from Nicole Kidman to Denzel Washington in sell-out seasons. Now that a new generation of plays is being adapted, stars may find that they can stay in front of the camera and still get hold of the genuinely strong writing they crave. The Ides of March and August: Osage County will have nary a single digital effect between them when they arrive in cinemas late next year, but there's a good chance they'll light up the screen.