Stage West Community Playhouse actor George Dwyer has been working on a stage adaptation of the movie Becket since 1979.
It's the story of the stormy relationship between the 12th century king of England, Henry II, and his close friend and later antagonist, Thomas a Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury.
Dwyer's play will have its world premiere Dec. 4-7 at the Forum at Stage West in Spring Hill. He'll play Henry, and director Peter Clapsis will play the archbishop.
"He's been working on it and tinkering with it for years," Clapsis said of Dwyer's play. "He's never felt comfortable enough for anyone to do it, but he does now."
Dwyer received written permission to adapt the movie from the movie producers themselves. He has added a "t" to the end of Becket's name to differentiate his work from that of French playwright Jean Anouilh.
So why not just do the Anouilh play?
"The original stage play is very, very difficult for actors," Clapsis said. "It's translated from French, and the syntax" causes problems. Dwyer's English version is easier for actors and more easily understood by audiences, Clapsis said.
The two-hour script contains certain 12th-century language and expressions, but the actors speak it in American accents.
"It flows very well; we don't want anything to impact the performers and the words," Clapsis said. "It's really, really well written."
The action starts as the then-archbishop of Canterbury pleads with Henry not to impose taxes on the church. Henry decides to make his longtime drinking and carousing buddy Beckett his chancellor, and, later, when the archbishop dies, elevates him to that post, hoping for a sympathetic ear inside the highest realms of the church.
To Henry's surprise and consternation, Beckett takes his new position seriously, defending the church against secular incursion. The two stubborn friends clash, and Beckett flees to France, where he attempts to excommunicate Henry.
Beckett eventually returns, but the quarrel between the old friends ends in tragedy.
"George wrote this with grandiose sets, but in the Forum, we had to make the big play small," Clapsis said. "We're using minimalist sets" and costumes that were worn in the theater's recent production of Camelot.
If the play is successful, Clapsis hopes to remount it in the larger main theater in the future.
Proceeds from ticket sales are being donated to a fund for 12-year-old Lauren Ballard, who will undergo treatment at a Shriners Hospital in Chicago in January.