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'The Book Thief' comes to the stage

'The Book Thief,' the popular children's book by Markus Zusak, is playing at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago through early November.

By Staff Writer / October 25, 2012

'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak was first published in 2006.

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Popular children’s book “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak has been turned into a stage play that debuted at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

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The adaptation was written by Heidi Stillman and is directed by Hallie Gordon. It will run at the theater through Nov. 11. “Thief” is narrated by Death, who tells the reader the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany who loves to read.

Stillman said the complex plot was a challenge to adapt into a show.

“There was some wrestling to do to get it into a play shape,” she told the New York Times. “But [the book is] super-theatrical.”

Gordon said she believes the story of people making a difference during the time of the Nazis is one that can translate to standing up to injustice today.

“This raises the discussion about their compassion and doing the right thing under the worst possible circumstances," she said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "That's really the conversation we want to have [with young people]. Look at this family and the choices they are making. What are the positive choices you are making in your own community?”

A review of the play by the Chicago Sun-Times said it had a “stellar cast under the precisionist direction of Hallie Gordon” and is a “strong yet subtle stage adaptation of the bestselling novel.” However, a review by the Chicago Tribune said that the stage play “does not find it easy to pack in all aspects of this complicated book,” though the critic, Chris Jones, said the performances were well-delivered.

The book was originally published in 2006, and Zusak said he originally thought it would be hard for “Thief” to find an audience.

“I always imagined people trying to recommend it and being asked what it’s about and saying: ‘It’s set in Nazi Germany. It’s narrated by Death. It’s 560 pages long. You’ll love it,’” he told the New York Times.

However, “Thief” is still currently going strong, snagging the second place on the New York Times children’s paperback bestseller list for the week of Oct. 28 and taking the fourth slot on the IndieBound children’s interest rankings for the week of Oct. 25.

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