A search for the soul (continued)
Continued | Back to part 1
Audiences that identify satisfying theater too narrowly with great
performances may be disappointed with Fornes' work, because her characters are
something less than fully imagined, individuated people. Though they are
capable of affecting poetry, their speeches make little pretense at resembling
the way real people speak. One senses in "Mud" and "Drowning" that Fornes is
grasping for something deeper, almost Jungian, in these characters. It is as if she were trying to reinvent the myths of the ancient Greeks in a 20th-century context, to show the human drama writ large, beyond the scope of believable individual portraits.
Deirdre O'Connell's Mae in "Mud" is a study in self-development reflected
in the cadences of speech. She moves from a Spartan staccato in her early
exchanges with the brute Lloyd to a rippling crescendo when exploring her inner
thoughts with the more thoughtful Henry. "And sometimes I feel hollow and base. And I feel like I don't have a mind. But when I talk to you, I do. I feel I have a mind. Why is that?" The beauty of O'Connell's characterization is the way she embodies Fornes' belief that only love enables people to fully realize their humanity.
|MUD AND DROWNING|
|Company: Signature Theatre Co..|
Written by: Maria Irene Fornes.
Directed by: David Esbjornson.
Cast: Deirdre O'Connell, Paul Lazar, Marc Damon Johnson, Philip Goodwin, Jed Diamond.
Related links: Official site
Paul Lazar's dance background serves him well as Lloyd, whose
wretchedness he captures evocatively in the poses of a pained animal,
uncomfortable in its own skin, curled up beneath a table or crumpled at an angle in a chair, like a dying dog. John Seitz rounds out the trio as a middle-aged Henry whose finer sensibility is just an accident away from his own beastly decrepitude.
While director David Esbjornson's staging is devoid of flourishes, the
characters' gently-nuanced gestures deftly illuminate Fornes' preoccupation with innocence and the sensuality of discovery of one's world. Mae's uncertain
attempt to position her first lipstick in her fingers is echoed later by the
childlike Pea's tentative reaching out for a newspaper he has seen for the first time. Marc Damon Johnson brings a tender naivete on the verge of self-awakening to Pea, who will not recover from rejection by a girl he discovered in a newspaper photo.
There are hints in the sensuality of gesture in this production of a more
penetrating critique Fornes is offering up about human beings' capacity for
self-delusion. The wisdom of setting "Mud," for instance, in a backwater 1930s
milieu allows Fornes to shadow her characters' expectations of a more civilized
future with our own recognition of how little we have advanced. Henry's
prophecy that "our time will not be wasted and we will choose how to spend it"
and Mae's resolve to "die in a hospital, in clean sheets, with clean feet and
injections" evoke a shiver at how modernity and technical innovation have not
been able to quell our most basic needs and fears.
If "Mud" ultimately presents a bleak picture of human capacity for
compassion, Fornes is more generous in "Drowning" where Pea's companion, Roe,
played by Philip Goodwin, quietly pronounces, "I don't want any harm to come to
him because he's good" and "What a terrible thing to see a young man like you
destroyed like this, suffering like this."
The Signature theater must be applauded for achieving such a seamless
collaboration of talents as is evident here to create the overall production
design. That the dismantled debris of the rustic mantlepiece and water-stained
livingroom walls of "Mud" (by set designer Christine Jones) are left onstage in
ruins amid the underwater ballet of "Drowning" suggests that humanity may not
have much time left for self-examination. Sound designer John Kilgore's faint
but pervasive hum of water bubbling, as if we are in an aquarium, is unsettling: we suspect the deluge is nigh.
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|OCTOBER 1, 1999|
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