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    The Eliots

    The hollow couple

    "The Eliots," an occasionally scattered telling of the anguished relationship of T.S. Eliot and his wife Vivienne, nonetheless continues the often-spellbinding stagecraft of young director Lear DeBessonet and her collaborators.


    It is common knowledge that intense emotional pain inspires great art. That pain allows a comedian to blow the roof off the house, a painter to paint intricacies of great depth, and, as illustrated in this new play by Stillpoint Productions, it forces the creation of wondrous works by poetic types. The poets' lives being artfully dissected in "The Eliots" are Vivienne and T.S. (Tom) Eliot. And, while great art is being created by gut-wrenching pain, so too are mental and physical breakdowns leading to time spent in a sanatorium for him and an early death while institutionalized for her.

    Company: Stillpoint Productions.
    Directed by: Lear deBessonet.
    Produced by: Lear deBessonet, Di Johnston, Julie Kline, Paula Orr, Nate Schenkkan.
    Cast: Christopher Logan Healy, Julie Kline, Lethia Nall, Nate Schenkkan, Ryan West.
    Choreography by: Nate Schenkkan, Kate Enright.
    Production design by: Kirche Leigh Zeile.
    Art direction by: Kirche Leigh Zeile.
    Sound design by: Mark Huang.
    Set design by: Donyale Werle.
    Costumes by: Kirche Leigh Zeile.
    Lighting design by: Beth Turomsha.
    Production stage manager: Jen Stamey.
    Collaborating writer: Caridad Svich.
    Props design: Donyale Werle.
    Technical director & master builder: Derek Dickinson.

    Related links: Official site
    Center Stage NY
    48 West 21st St., 4th floor
    April 29 - May 9, 2004

    In this production, the story plays second fiddle to its presentation. It is such a simple and miserable tale, really. Tom meets Vivienne and they get married too soon. She has an affair and Tom goes crazy. Tom then publishes some good work. Then Vivienne goes nuts. Tom leaves her and writes more good stuff. Poor Viv dies at 58 of a heart attack. Tom remarries, lives the rest of his uneventful life and writes nothing of any real worth ever again. See? He needed the misery. This narrative is conveniently laid out for us in the program in the form of a biographical timeline.

    The staging, on the other hand, is very creative and extremely complex using constantly shifting and mood swinging sound, lights and projections. There are three Toms and two Viviennes in the play. At first glance it would seem that the multiple characters would represent the troubled couple at different points in their history. This idea either becomes muddled as the show progresses, or this isn't the intention at all. However, it doesn't take away any pleasure in the viewing of it, it just forces a little glancing at that timeline in the program now and again.

    The Eliots  
    "The Eliots" is another conception of the very gifted director Lear deBessonet. She is credited with the idea and the ensemble has created the piece under her direction. This formula works well for deBessonet (see "transFigures") and her ensemble.

    The cast are all equally strong and talented and give inspired performances. There is a great deal of chemistry in the air between the couple(s) even when they switch partners, which is weird if you think about it too long. The very welcome light-comic bits come off quite well and everyone's dancing and movement are divine. This ensemble works so well together that there simply isn't a standout performance — which, in this author's opinion, is the way it should be.

    As with the story taking a back seat to the presentation, so too do the actors to the technical crew. There was some serious work/performance going on in the tech booth here, folks, and it was near perfect. Perhaps too perfect, if there is such a thing. The sound was gorgeous, the set, lights and costumes relayed the emotion and time period quite richly, and the projections used were sweet and wonderful and really had a way of getting the old heart pumping. In most ways the heavy tech and crafty staging worked excellently well, but in the end we were still left with a desire to see a stronger, more resonant story worthy of such intensity in artful presentation.

    MAY 7, 2004

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