“The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)” at New York Theater Workshop features, in foreground, Susie Sokol and Vin Knight. It is based on the opening section of Faulkner’s novel.
- The Advertiser March 12, 2010
- The Australian March 15, 2010
- Expresso-Actual January 24, 2009
- Publico January 20, 2009
- The New Yorker May 26, 2008
- The New Yorker May 5, 2008
- Time Out New York April 30-May 6, 2008
- Time Out New York April 30, 2008
- The New York Sun April 30, 2008
- The International Herald Tribune April 29, 2008
- Backstage April 29, 2008
- Variety April 29, 2008
- The New York Times April 27, 2008
- Variety November 30, 2007
- The Brooklyn Rail April 2008
- The Village Voice March 4, 2008
- Variety November 30, 2007
Faulkner’s Haunted Family, Moving In And Out Of Time
by Ben Brantley
For the record, Elevator Repair Service’s “Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)” lasts over two and a half hours, counting intermission. Or that’s what my watch said at the end of this hypnotic re-creation of the opening section of William Faulkner’s 1929 novel.
But I really had no idea of how long I had been sitting in a state of rapt, oddly contented confusion at New York Theater Workshop, where the production opened on Tuesday night. The minutes had shrunk, stretched, flown, crept, sagged and stood still, sometimes all at once.
This is fitting for a play adapted from a work in which time is never easy to quantify. “April Seventh, 1928” is narrated by a man of 33 with the mind of a preliterate child. (Faulkner took his title from “Macbeth”: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”)
That’s Benjamin Compson, originally named Maury and often called Benjy, against his mother’s wishes. For him time isn’t sequential but simultaneous. The past and present blur, and people are all the ages they have ever been for as long as he has known them.
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.
Trying to translate this perspective from the page to the stage would seem to be an act of folly and hubris. But the famously venturesome Elevator Repair Service — which toured Europe with a seven-hour rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” (titled “Gatz”) — brings a sanity, humility and theatrical ingenuity to their interpretation that, like the novel, illuminates the clarity within apparent chaos.
Under the direction of John Collins, its founder, this 17-year-old experimental company doesn’t try to impose its own order on Faulkner’s prose. As it did with its “Gatsby,” the troupe follows the original text, word for word. (This means that students hoping to use the play as a quick-fix trot will be thwarted.)
A dozen performers take turns reading the narrative, speaking the dialogue and acting out scenes. No single person plays one role throughout, though Benjy is mostly embodied by the actress Susie Sokol. The costumes (by Colleen Werthmann) are fanciful blends of period and contemporary clothes.
But David Zinn’s set is a ravishingly detailed, photo-realist evocation of what an early-20th-century parlor of a once prosperous Southern home might have looked like. (It is spiced from time to time with surrealistic accents, like a sideboard that turns into a blazing fireplace, or projected text from the book.)
The setting’s authenticity, combined with the presence of the team of performers, creates the sense of detectives gathered at the scene of a mystery, trying to piece together exactly what happened. Which is what we all become when we read prose that requires our active participation.
The variety of the ensemble members, whose methods range from comic expressionism to naked naturalism, makes this “Sound and the Fury” a reminder of how subjective an experience reading always is. But a cohesiveness emerges as well, rooted in diverse people having worked together to arrive at shared conclusions, appropriate for a work in which an entire company is given creator’s credit.
At least that’s what I felt when I thought about the show later. Watching it, after a few first minutes of resistance, I let myself fall into the shifting swirl of voices and movements. Sometimes it was the stylized, seemingly incongruous elements in this activity that most sharply summoned Benjy’s dissociative worldview.
Antic, jaunty dances, for example, become a sensual metaphor for Benjy’s watching social rituals without having a clue as to what they mean (and perhaps also for our own bewilderment). In a scene where the carriage in which Benjy and his mother are riding suddenly turns around, Ms. Sokol’s body is physically twisted by others, conjuring the disrupting disorientation Benjy feels.
When he cries, as he often does, the haunted bellow that fills the air usually comes not from the person playing him, but from some unspecified source. It’s a device neatly matching Benjy’s inability to connect cause and effect, even when the cause is himself.
And the continuing substitutions of one performer for another in a given part wind up reflecting Benjy’s tendency to confuse one person for another over time: the various black servants who take care of him, or his beloved older sister, Caddy, whom he sees in her illegitimate daughter years later.
I should say that I reread “The Sound and the Fury” just before seeing this show, and even thus fortified, I was sometimes at sea. This isn’t inappropriate, of course, for an account by a narrator who is himself forever at sea in time. But I can’t imagine what people unacquainted with Faulkner’s novel will make of this production.
What any audience that gives itself over to this talented team should sense, though, is the group’s sustained theatrical discipline and energy. This work is so precisely thought out that even the slightest stumble in delivery (and there were very few) stands out.
For those familiar with “The Sound and the Fury,” Elevator Repair Service has provided a magical opportunity: the chance to rediscover some of the thrill that came with encountering and gradually embracing one of the great achievements of Western literature for the first time.
View the original article on The New York Times’ website here .