Monday, April 21, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Weekend - Part 2

"The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)" created by Elevator Repair Service at New York Theatre Workshop, April 19, 2008

Somehow, I was able to escape both high school and college without having to read William Faulkner's 1929 novel. More often than not, I've counted myself lucky on that point. I can remember talking with friends who were suffering through the stream of consciousness style as the plodded through the text, rarely understanding what it was they were reading.

With that in mind, I have to admit that I was more than a little apprehensive about seeing this new staging of the work, particularly having noted in the playbill from my last NYTW outing that the production is created by Elevator Repair Service (ERS), a theatre ensemble which has appeared in New York's downtown performance circuit since 1991. (For those of you who haven't picked up on it yet, I tend to be a bit of traditionalist when it comes to the theatre. I know, I know, hard to imagine...anyway) TSATF is the fifth production I've seen at NYTW and I knew I could count on an intellectual challenge at the least. Having just seen "God's Ear" at the Vineyard the night before, I remained skeptical. My post about that show immediately precedes this post and reading it, you should understand my skepticism.

I won't go into the plot as such, and if you're really interested in learning more about the original work, Wikipedia has an excellent summary here. Basically, the story surrounds the Compson family: father Jason, mother Caroline, oldest son Quentin, daughter Candace (Caddie), son Jason, and mentally retarded and mute son Benjy. Supporting the Compsons are the Gibsons, a black servant family: father Roskus, mother Dilsey, oldest son Versh, son T. P., daughter Frony and her son Luster. Versh, T.P. and Luster are primary caretakers for Benjy through his life. Part one is written from Benjy's perspective, so the stream of consciousness technique is perfectly apt. You can also take a look at more information on Mr. Faulkner here.

Under the detailed and insightful direction of John Collins, ERS captures the essence of Benjy's perspective. Using a combination of reading from a paperback copy of the book, supertitle projections and line readings which include all the "Luster said"s, "Caddie said"s, etc., the entire text of the book is delivered in the two act production. Maintaining the stream of consciousness concept, ERS uses the full company with multiple cast members playing the same role and multiple roles. Some character changes are indicated with simple costume additions, such as an apron for Dilsey, or a nightgown for the hypochondriac Caroline, or a red rugby shirt for Benjy. Casting also occurs regardless of the actor's gender. Dilsey is played by two men and two women, occasionally simultaneously. Benjy is played primarily by a woman, but also by a man in some segments and again, occasionally simultaneously.

Standout performers are Susie Sokol (in an unfortunate wig) as the mute Benjy, Vin Knight as son Jason, servants Dilsey and Versh, and Ben Williams as Luster.

David Zinn's set serves ERS' needs beautifully, while creating a visible gap at each side of the stage. It reminds me a bit of the design requirements at the Atlantic Theatre (which do so because the restrooms are backstage at that facility - not so at NYTW), but the result is a bit of a jewel box effect that somehow helps contain the random and non-linear story they tell.

It's a truly remarkable production and should not be missed.

NYTW is offering a discount to my readers (both of you) - you should take advantage of it.

Tickets for all performances April 15 – May 18 are just $40 each (reg. $55).

Use code SDFBLG7 when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit

New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.

CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.

Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.

The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.

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