Saturday, February 14, 2009


Photo/JJ Lind

Chuck. Chuck. Chuck.
is the sound Cash's adze makes as he cuts a coffin for his mother, Addie, in William Falkner's As I Lay Dying. It's a fitting title for Immediate Medium's adaptation, for they've not only brought the words of this classic family drama to life, but they've brought the sounds to life, too--even dead Addie's, with her whispering voiceover, and the murmuring brooks of human worry. Going one step further, Rob Ramirez actually turns Faulkner's stream of consciousness into a literal one, with projected lines from the novel snaking down from that centerpiece of a coffin. There's singing and dancing, too, much like Elevator Repair Service's adaptation of The Sound and the Fury, though it's not experimental so much as it's a necessary tact for wrestling Faulkner's prose to the ground without stifling it.

There's never the slightest risk of that here; Immediate Medium's ensemble work is superb, as is their aesthetic cohesiveness: Maki Takenouchi's set is a dirt-filled sandbox ringed with lights and rigged with laundry wires, Max Dana hides lights inside of buckets of water or beside the heat lamps so that each scene always feels distinct and a little private, and Suzie Chung's costuming strikes a nice balance between elegance and the requisite grime of this country family. If anything stands in the way of Chuck.Chuck.Chuck., it is Faulkner himself, whose narrative of the Bundren family's disasterous (and reflective) journey to bury Addie (LeAnn Lind), is sometimes overly oblique. Director JJ Lind combats this--a death that the doctor, Peabody, describes as "merely a function of the mind"--by remaining physical: Vardaman (Liz Vacco) guts a fish, Jewel (Megan Camisi) isolates himself from the family by drawing and redrawing his beloved horse on the exposed brick wall, Cash (Max Dana) makes his sawing into a workman's music, and Dewey Dell (Siobhan Towey) scurries about, keeping her brothers in line even as she frets about her secret pregnancy.

The big, action-packed climaxes of the novel--a perilous river crossing, a blazing fire--come to life in swirls of projections, dancing, and live music (provided by Ben Vershbow, Robin Aigner, Brady Jenkins, Suzie Chung, and Caroline Shaw, sometimes doing nothing more than stamping their feet). If there are exaggerated moments, like Vershbow's winking rapist, MacGowan, or Hugh Sinclair's drunken patriarch, Anse, it's only because Immediate Medium doesn't have space to let you reread and recontextualize the chapters: it all has to exist in the moment. And exist it does, from the tender way Dana's voice breaks in an otherwise technical account of the thirteen-step coffin-building method to the way Michael Rushton's Darl slowly grows more and more erratic, going mad, but rationally so.

Some cuts have been made, some text has been reshuffled or overlapped, but it feels as if it's all there, and that's what matters. For in the end, all there is for any of us is that final sound.

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