Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Redwood Curtain's production of The Language Archive begins its final weekend.  I've got a couple of other thoughts to share, after my Journal review.

First, on the playwright's strategy of having the characters tell the story retrospectively, while acting it out.  It's an interesting narrative strategy, with levels of ambiguity--are we seeing what actually happened, or what the characters remember as happening, or even what they wished had happened?  But it is also a dramatically tricky strategy.  What really is the dramatic action?  Strictly speaking, it can't be the action we're seeing, because that action is being remembered and narrated.  The dramatic action is people remembering the past.  That's what is happening in the present, what's being enacted on the stage.

This also leads into la-la lands of representation and so on--the dramatic action of a play purporting to be the action we see is really actors performing, and so on.  But what's more to the point in the experiencing of it is how well does this approach work?  Contrast this play with Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, recently at NCRT.  In a formal sense, it also is a story being told by one of the characters, who occasionally steps out of character to narrate, usually to fill in action we don't see.  In that production, due to the writing or the direction or both, it was awkward and distracting. (The play was funny, in spite of this and other deficiencies.)  It was not as well integrated as The Language Archive, where it gave that play the sense of a fable, of a kind of contemporary fairy story told by a community of people.  (And like real fairy tales, it included unfortunate events.)  For me, the occasional narration did not disturb the presentness of the action, but in Laughter, it did.

The other thing I kept thinking about is the way director James Floss and actor Craig Benson chose to play the character of George, the language archivist.  I read that in the New York production, George was played as cold and emotionless, especially towards his wife.  At Redwood Curtain, Benson plays George as confused and conflicted, but not cold.

First of all, this is a difference that recurs frequently.  Characters that New Yorkers accept--obnoxious, aggressive, cold and calculating--are usually given a different interpretation on the North Coast.  They're usually more "human" you might say, or you might just say they're "nicer," more recognizably  North Coast. 

Frankly, I think that works better most of the time, and specifically, it really works better in this play.  First of all, George being caring but confused and exasperated in his reactions to his wife Mary's strange expressions of unhappiness is funnier than it would be if he were cold and remote.  His internal struggle is part of the couple's struggle, for she is also conflicted (leading to those cryptic notes which she denies writing.)

But besides mirroring Mary in a distorted way, this also parallels the cluelessness of Emma, his lab assistant who doesn't recognize that she's in love with George for a long time after it is apparent to the audience.  All of this brings both a warmth and a shape to this play, which otherwise defies definition.

Now don't get me started on the bread....     

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