Friday, May 09, 2008

The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)

Photos/Sara Krulwich

How does one begin to describe Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, let alone Elevator Repair Service's adaptation of the first fourth, April Seventh, 1928? One starts, for better and worse, with a kaleidoscope, for ERS has assembled the fragmented narrative of Benjy, a 33-year-old half-wit, into a series of fleshy set pieces which shake, slide, and blur into place. The result is certainly novel, but like the novel, the effect wears a little thin. Fortunately, thanks to John Collins's vivid direction, the ways in which the text comes to life are always surprising. (Sort of a necessity, considering the adaptation is more or less word for word, though there's room to nitpick.)

A painstaking recreation of The Sound and the Fury, however, is bound to cause some pain. In order to stay true to Benjy's unconsciously unreliable narration, the cast plays a shell game with the roles, and though ERS pins the events of the play down to seventeen separate dates, that don't make it none easier to follow. Like the old-fashioned cabinet-radio resting against the wall, scenes crackle in and out, as if Collins is literally tuning us (or turning us) into Faulkner. What's more, because Benjy understands so little of the world around us, the actors frequently exaggerate their lines, either caterwauling or deadpanning their way around our "straight" man. (The double-casting of this castrated invalid -- both Susie Sokol and Aaron Landsman play the role -- is a particularly apt one.) In fact, when taken to the extremes of imagination, we find Mike Iveson and Ben Williams cutting an awkward jittery rug.

Whether or not you end up enjoying The Sound and the Fury really depends on whether or not you can see the beauty present in an actor speaking their dialogue in the same breath as their he and she saids. It depends on whether or not you are as willing as Benjy to lose yourself in the hypnotic glow of a flame, to invest yourself in this reinvention of the mundane. For me, I found the production to be triumphantly emphatic of all the flaws in Faulkner's work, the most all-encompassing work of love that I've seen in some time. It's ridiculous to say that, as much as it is to reflect on the absurd beauty of a cake-cutting ceremony, but for all the lumps and grumbles I jotted down during the play, it's only that beauty that I remember now.

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