Love and death
Marguerite Duras' "Savannah Bay" spins beautifully impressionistic language around the story of a family tragedy.
By DAVID BOGOSLAW
Marguerite Duras made a career of exploring amour fou (irrational love).
Perhaps best known for "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," her 1959 film collaboration
with Alain Resnais, Duras wrote novels, plays and films and managed to
stamp her work with a hypnotic melancholia born of regret and loss. If
her play "Savannah Bay," currently being presented by the Theater for the
New City in association with Joyce H. Johnson through Dec. 12, is
thin dramatically, it succeeds in providing a glimpse into the kind of
all-consuming, youthful passion that can arrest the flow of time.
The play is a mood piece in which a girl draws her aged grandmother into a
game of memories recalled over afternoon tea. The grandmother,
Madeleine, has been an actress and the girl suggests that the stories of
a girl determined to die for love, heard
countless times before, may be based less in fact than in imagination. We discover early on that the young
girl doomed by her own passion is the granddaughter's dead mother, but
Duras makes us wait for the play's horrible coup de grace.
|Written by: Marguerite Duras.|
Directed by: Andrew Volkoff.
Cast: Peg Small, India Blake.
Translated by Barbara Bray.
As Madeleine, Peg Small displays the fiery grit of a woman who seeks to
understand and make peace with her daughter's suicide the only way she
knows by embodying the role, conjuring the details of her seaside
seduction, exploiting the emotions for theatrical effect. The strength of "Savannah Bay"
is Duras' impressionistic language, the intricately-designed
verbal repetitions that Madeleine spins as if to show her resolve to
burrow inside this character, her daughter, getting at its emotional
center. India Blake is not nearly as satisfying as the granddaughter,
who is more a dramatic device for the grandmother to play off of than a
Director Andrew Volkoff has wisely resisted the temptation to dress the
play in imaginative staging. His choice ensures that nothing obscures
Duras' hypnotic language. Except for two moments in front of a gigantic
mirror that tilts out of the sand like some excavated ruin, the two actors
are confined to chairs at the end of an improbably long dining table.
If there is a detail that defines the mood of "Savannah Bay," it is the
unbearable sadness of love lost captured by afternoon sunlight pushing
through half-drawn wooden Venetian blinds. It is an image borrowed from
her short novel, "The Lover," about a doomed tryst between a Chinese
gentleman and a teenaged French colonial girl in 1920s French Indochina.
Duras uses it to suggest the allure of amour fou, the apparent suspension
of time experienced by lovers caught up in their passion. Though Duras'
wordplay is perhaps better appreciated on the printed page, Peg Small's
performance shines a brilliant light and lets us imagine, even slightly,
why a girl might choose to die for love.
|DECEMBER 7, 1999|
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