Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Play it as it lays

October 11, 2008

Members of Elevator Repair Service in The Sound and The Fury

It’s been a rough start to the Los Angeles theater season this fall. The Center Theater Group has been plagued with the Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5 and the rather tedious This Beautiful City at the Kirk Douglas Theater. UCLA Live had to eighty-six the opening production of its International Theater Festival, Barrie Kosky’s The Tell Tale Heart due to reported travel visa problems and the Geffen has been bogged down in another one of those Hershey Felder piano-bio-dramas. So it may be somewhat surprising that REDCAT has stepped in to save the day with what is easily the best thing on stage here so far this fall with an imported production from New York's Elevator Repair Service entitled The Sound and The Fury (April Seventh, 1928).

Now in reality, this is not a surprise at all to anyone whose been following the trajectory of this CalArts run venue downtown in the basement of he Walt Disney Concert Hall since it opened five years ago. REDCAT has repeatedly offered some of the most inventive and thoughtful theater and music events in town by both locals and out-of-towners, often at bargain basement prices. So inviting Elevator Repair Service to reprise their lauded production of Faulkner’s novel here on the West coast is a proverbial no-brainer.

It’s a fantastic production. The company has made a bit of a name for itself recently in producing theatrical events that are as much staged readings as they are plays. The Sound and The Fury is exactly that – the first 100 or so pages of Faulkner’s classic novel performed by a cast of 12 literally word-for-word. While fist person descriptive passages are read by various cast members from a dog-eared copy of the novel, the rest of the group enacts the dialog with all of the “he said”s still intact. Given the stream of consciousness of Faulkner’s work, this is a bold and brazen task for these quite talented actors who play out multiple non-sequential scenes in the same space simultaneously. Most of the actors swap and share different roles throughout passing them around between one another in a way that enhances the sense of the free flow of the narrator Benjamin Compson's memory. That Benjy is severely cognitively impaired and mute only adds to the challenge. There’s an abundance of audio samples added to the performance which all takes place within a single giant room that alternately serves and living room, kitchen, and the great outdoors.

While this may sound incredibly confusing, it works amazingly well. It is both hypnotic and expertly catches both the campy, gothic feel of the book and the sentimental dream of lost innocence. Reaching the end of the intermissionless two plus hours feels both profound and cathartic. The cast is excellent and while different members clearly ascribe to different performance styles, director John Collins somehow allows everyone enough room to play with the material while keeping all of Faulkner’s words intact. Sadly, there are only a handful of performances this weekend, but I hear REDCAT has been busy with sizable audiences for the performances, which is great news. There is one more show on Sunday afternoon which I highly recommend if you have the time.


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