THE AWAKENING IS one of those books that seems almost impossible to translate for the stage. After a high-profile release that saw critics savage the book for its treatment of marriage and infidelity, Kate Chopin's seminal novel was completely forgotten by audiences until the 1950s. Over the following decades it was claimed by feminists and modernist scholars, each with their own interpretations of the book's greatness. What makes the Book-It Repertory company's production worthwhile theater isn't that it captures what each interested camp feels is special about The Awakening, but that the show reaches past both conceptions for a genuinely humanistic reading of the author's work, an interpretation that embraces much of what that novel reflected in Chopin's life. The culmination of a process that began in 1995, with major contributions from adapting playwright Rebecca Chase, director Jane Jones, and the composer/lead actress Myra Platt, The Awakening is good enough to make you believe a singular artistic statement can result from several voices.

Kate Chopin was a great artist, but not because she prefigured a literary style or embodied a specific set of life's frustrations. Her work, particularly The Awakening, continues to resonate because she allowed protagonists like Edna Pontellier to reveal their essential human needs in the face of complex societal conventions that exist to frustrate those wishes--something replicated in the author's own struggles with the reaction to her work. In Chopin's view, style served the initial, essential trust between author and character. Similarly, Book-It trusts their long-simmering collaboration to give an audience a definite reading where a definitive one may be impossible.

Like many translations of novels to stage, Chase moves the action along through a mix of real-time dialogue and slightly removed exposition uttered by various characters, even while interacting with one another. When combined with Jones' emphasis on complicated physical interaction and choreography, The Awakening hones in on human relationships. Even the natural sensuality so prevalent in Chopin's work is given human form: The voice of the sea is played by two actors, while the first act's swimming scenes are played out amid a tremendous sprawl of bodies. The most common expression of the natural world and peoples' ability to relate to it is through music, both vocal and instrumental.

Most analyses of The Awakening rightfully concentrate on heroine Pontellier's relationship to the natural world--particularly the sea near Grand Isle, a bastion of Creole culture, where she spends her summer--and how she interacts with three men: her husband, a potential true love, and a second suitor who turns into a dalliance. The stage show conveys this almost as well as the novel, although the relationship between husband and wife may have been better served by Chopin's skill with accretion of detail.

One important way the plays breaks with the source material is that the concentration on human, physical relationships brings a greater number of Pontellier's friendships into relief. Stephanie Shine's Adele Ratignolle and Lori Larsen's Mademoiselle Reisz serve as important embodiments of roles Pontellier cannot quite embrace. Even minor relationships reveal important aspects of Pontellier's character: her blithe lack of class-consciousness, or the enthusiastic naiveté with which she embraces a Creole woman based solely on the woman's otherworldliness.

The Edna Pontellier who loses herself to the natural world in Book-It's play is much more reminiscent of Chopin than the literary figure. Chopin's best female friendship suffered when that friend joined the Catholic Church, a place where Chopin couldn't follow. Her probable loneliness as an adult was played out less in natural terms (she and her husband removed themselves to his small hometown, where she began to write seriously) than in the lack of fulfilling human relationships in a town mostly horrified by her independent ways. By concentrating on the stage's strength for showing human beings in relation to one another, Book-It has given its audience a show with a potentially greater truth than its source material.