Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Smart Southern Gothic: TAKE ME BACK TO JEFFERSON at Factory Theatre

Last Friday night, I headed off to see a revival of Theatre Smith-Gilmour's adaptation of William Faulkner's 1930's novel, AS I LAY DYING.

Theatre Smith-Gilmour has made a fine business out of adapting literature into theatre using its unique Lecoq -influenced blend of text and physical theatre.  Here, the marriage is particularly successful and the company gives a full throttle physical adaptation of the book.

Faulkner's dense, multi-character, lyrical text is a study of a family hell-bent on disaster.  Tragedy after tragedy befalls them, often thanks to their lazy, stubborn, self-pitying, selfish and not-overly bright patriarch, Anse Bundren.

Dean Gilmour is masterful as Anse, showing every unsavoury angle of his repellant character.  It's a rare actor who can play someone like this, without trying to make him likeable.  Gilmour never falls into that trap.  As the audience, we can laugh at Anse, pity him, hate him, feel repulsed by him, resent him, but we also see him as he sees himself,: hard done by, and set upon by vicissitude, just trying to get by in a harsh world.

Anse's wife Addie ( a great physical performance from Michelle Smith)  lays dying as her son, Cash meticulously constructs her coffin beneath her bedroom window. The doctor, Peabody is summoned, but too late. Addie dies, and her brood determines they will take her body to the town of Jefferson, where Addie is from, to bury her, as was her wish.

That night, heavy rain falls.  The deluge triggers a series of events that lead the strained family lurching on a torturous road trip, where they meet one catastrophe after another, usually made worse by some self-centred decision of Anse's.

The rest of the Bundren family is is very well conveyed by Nina Gilmour as the heart-breaking Dewy Dell, Ben Muir as fury-wild Jewel, Daniel Roberts as sweet, little Vardaman, whose imagination leads him to think his mother may have become a fish, Dan Watson as stoic Cash and Julian De Zotti in a fine turn as Darl, a young man drifting into madness.They mastered a very physically demanding style while doing lovely work with the challenging text

The above-mentioned cast also plays all the other characters that appear in the epic story, with the addition of some bird-like noses and a few deft shifts of costume pieces.  Andre Du Toit (lighting) and Teresa Przybyski (set and costumes) provide a magnificently evocative, yet minimal design, conveying the poverty of the inhabitants, and the epic scope of the tragedies that befall them.

This version worked much better on textual level than the earlier production I saw.  This is a stunningly effective adaptation of an epic tragedy.  I highly recommend it.


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