“The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)” at New York Theater Workshop features, in foreground, Susie Sokol and Vin Knight. Photo by: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
I was so pleased to wake up this morning and read Chief New York Times Theater Critic Ben Brantley’s rave review of our friends Elevator Repair Service’s production of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (April 7, 1928). The Walker has long been in ERS’s corner, ever since I first saw their deliciously ridiculous Cab Legs at PS122 in 1998. On their first Minneapolis visit, we presented their odd-ball, ecstatic Total Fictional Lie as part of Walker’s 2000 Out There series. They returned with Room Tone (2003 Out There) and, most recently, we co-commissioned their audacious, every-word-of-the-novel marathon production of The Great Gatsby (GATZ) ,which received its U.S. debut here in September 2006.
Rights issues with the Fitzgerald estate have tragically not allowed the brilliant GATZ to yet be seen in New York City, but a year after the Walker introduced the work to the U.S., it did successfully tour to cities like Portland OR (at PICA’s TBA Festival), Philadelphia (at the Philly Live Art Fest.) and Seattle (On The Boards). So, it’s a bit irritating that both Brantley and Justin Bergman (who wrote an ERS preview last Sunday in the Times) seem oblivious to the fact that GATZ ever came to the U.S. at all (“ the famously venturesome Elevator Repair Service” wrote Brantley “ …toured Europe with a seven-hour rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “ Great Gatsby” …).
While Brantley and Bergman maintained the Times’ long-standing New York parochialism (assuming nothing of cultural interest takes place West of the Hudson), Brantley did do a nice job of articulating the steep challenge that director John Collins and ERS set up for themselves in taking on the notoriously dense and, at first read, confusing, first section of The Sound and Fury, which is told from the point of view Benjy Compson, a 33-year old mentally disabled man. “ Trying to translate this perspective from the page to the stage would seem to be an act of folly and hubris,” wrote Brantley… “ Benjy’s nonlinear, noninterpretive point of view has been the bane of uninitiated English students for decades. But reading this account of a Mississippi family’s decline is like looking at an impressionistic painting that at first seems to lack discernible forms, but stare long enough, and details emerge so precisely that it’s finally sharper than any photograph….”. In the end, the company’s rigor and ingenuity wins over Brantley completely – “ (ERS) brings a sanity, humility and theatrical ingenuity to their interpretation that, like the novel, illuminates the clarity within apparent chaos.”
Congratulations again to director John Collins all our friends at ERS. I can’t wait to catch up with the production (and all of our ERS pals) on my next trip to New York in mid-May.