I don’t know who told Elevator Repair Service they could get away with turning The Sound and The Fury into a play. Whoever it was had a great idea.
I had never heard of this 17-year-old theater company. More and more I feel like Gertrude Stein, who, when discovered by Professor James weeping on the steps of the Harvard Library, was asked the cause of her upset. “I’ll never read them all,” she replied. “I’ll never read them all.” That’s how much theater I keep discovering in New York every day. It’s nearly an epidemic. Long may it wave.
This is the story of a Mississippi family’s ratty demise. Benjy Compson, a retarded adult, tells the tale as he remembers it. The stream of consciousness style makes the family’s decline wobbly in all the right ways. We tell the past we wish were true, or that we believe to be true, and the tales shape us as much as we shape the tales.
Using Faulkner’s text (the actual book gets handed from one to another actor) the ensemble cast brings the text to life, literally. This is sort of Readers Theatre meets The Wooster Group meets Pilobolus. Actors play more than one part; many characters are played by more than one actor. Adults become children, women and men exchange roles, as do black and white actors. People slip in and out of costume, character, and time as though they were skaters gliding on black ice.
The whole of it becomes a dance, the dance of storytelling transported into more dimensions than you can shake a stick at. This production is all about the story and what it will take for thirteen or so people to make it stand up, reach out, and grab you by throat. And the actors are more than supported by the technical components. The set, the Compson home, 1928, is at once breathtaking, charming, and distorted. The lighting guides us from “room to room,” sidles around dusty corners, and occasionally brays in garish flat tones. And, of course, there is the sound. I rarely give a hoot about the sound of a production. Most of it is overproduced and unnecessary. In this production it is part of the company; it is the sound to the cast’s fury. It’s an excellent match.
This is an extraordinary company made up of ordinary looking people who thinks it’s important to let the magic use them as conduits. They are connected to one another so deeply that they often don’t need to look at one another as they execute their neverending motion onstage. I’m told that after each rehearsal, they all gathered for a few hands of poker. That seems a perfect fit, for this company’s considerable strength is sourced in ritual, chance, focus, and risk.
The combination is glorious. Go see. Go see.
The Sound And The Fury (April Seventh, 1928)
Created by Elevator Repair Service, based on the novel by William Faulkner; directed by John Collins
WITH: Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, Kate Scelsa, Kaneza Schaal, Susie Sokol, Tory Vazquez and Ben Williams.
Sets by David Zinn; costumes by Colleen Werthmann; lighting by Mark Barton; sound by Matt Tierney; production stage manager, Sarah C. Hughes; dance director, Katherine Profeta.
Presented by New York Theater Workshop, artistic director, James C. Nicola. At New York Theater Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, East Village; (212) 239-6200. Through June 1. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.