This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.
This week, theater followers and, well, followers of just about everything have been focused on the next four years; but this week, Theatre Talk is focused on four days that took place last month.
Amidst all the political theater and presidential debates, the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (better known as REDCAT) presented a brief, four-day run of The Sound and the Fury: April Seventh, 1928.
This wildly theatrical show with the rather unwieldy name was the product of a New York-based troupe called Elevator Repair Service. Using a cast of twelve, they presented what sounded like a full reading of the first 75 pages (a chapter titled "April Seventh, 1928") of The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner's celebrated 1929 novel.
Now, usually the live reading of novel, even if it takes place on a stage, is not considered theater. Elevator Repair Service is entirely faithful to the book — it feels as if not a comma, "and" or "he said" has been left out of Faulkner' text — and yet it was also fully staged, complete with costumes, music and a big set that represented the Compson family's Mississippi homestead.
Literary adaptations are common enough on stage, but The Sound and the Fury: April Seventh, 1928 isn't really an adaptation; it felt to me more like a translation of the book into another artistic medium. Most theatrical adaptations of books (especially classics or well-known titles) tend to treat the text as too sacred and forget to add any new inspiration when telling the story on stage. That was not the case with this surprisingly innovative show. Elevator Repair Service, using a collaborative process (no single writer is credited as adaptor) succeeded in making this fragmented prose narrative come to life on stage.
One of the best things about the staging was the use of multiple actors to play the same parts. This old avant-garde staple can sometimes be annoying, but at REDCAT it was both clarifying as well as illuminating. The first chapter of Faulkner's book is told from the perspective of a 33-year-old man named Benjy who is mentally retarded. Faulkner's prose tries to let readers experience the world through Benjy's fractured mind — which can make this chapter a difficult read. One might think that having multiple actors playing each of the characters would only add to the confusion; but in fact it gave a visual form to Benjy's perspective and the story's abrupt changes of time and place.
The other brilliant touch was that the Elevator Repair service left in every "he said" or "she said" after each character spoke. Again, you might expect this to add a level of artificiality, since in the theater, characters don't frame their own dialogue, but simply talk to each other; in fact, though, this repetition, while odd a first, eventually sounded like part of the Faulkner's southern dialect. It strangely reminded you of the fidelity to the text, but it also made all the exchanges sound different than anything you've heard on stage before.
The Sound and the Fury is a tragedy — not surprising since the title is taken from a passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth — but it was a real joy to see such a daring work on a Los Angeles stage. The real tragedy is that is was only here for five performances over a four day run. I'm always urging theaters here to offer longer runs of their shows, but the reasons for these short runs are usually financial—and in the current climate, I fear it's not going to get better anytime soon.
To help ensure that Angelenos don't miss productions of this quality, the Theatre Talk website has recently added a calendar of current and upcoming shows. Here you can read and link to information about when Elevator Repair Service will be performing The Sound and the Fury in Europe next year and more importantly, find out if they'll be returning to REDCAT anytime soon.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.
Banner image: Ariana Smart Truman