Monday, November 17, 2008

The Waves

Last night was the feather in my weekend's cap, largely due to The National Theater's production of Virginia Woolf's The Waves now showing at the Duke Theater on 42nd street.

Ben Brantley has given it a fantastic review over at the NYT, if you're interested in what a real critic has to say.

While Virginia Woolf is, undoubtedly, my favorite writer (both of fiction and nonfiction), her work is notably difficult to stage. Most adaptations consist of a talented English actress simply reading from the text, as if it were a monologue. Kate Williams, the director here, has blown that tradition out of the water.

I was skeptical about the idea of live video imaging to go along with her prose. However, as the play went on, what the actors (who function also as video and sound technicians on the stage) were capable of creating put to rest any doubts I had as to whether this sort of “media adaptation” would work for Woolf’s prose. Her language, illuminated by the silky English accents of these players, literally came to life on the stage. If you’ve read Woolf, you know about her concept of “moments of being”—small, seemingly simple events or sensations that, in a moment, are capable of revealing something important to us about our lives. The video helped to bring these moments to the forefront, by zooming in on the actor’s face, or hands—these detailed emotions, usually unreadable from several rows back, were projected at the intensity of film. Not to be outdone by cinema, however, the actions and activities of the actors still on the stage made it more than a simple exercise in filmmaking. All sounds were reinforced by separate players, using props (styrofoam plates, brushes, the pouring of water, the crunching of leaves underfoot) as if these minute sensory signals had been illuminated, magnified—as they often are when one thinks back on a moment so chillingly beautiful that it sticks in one’s mind forever.

The production is an absolute joy, both to the Woolf reader, and to those yet unfamiliar with her work. I’m excited and hopeful that Kate Williams’ future National Theater productions will make their way across the pond.

If you live in New York, run to the theater. It closes Saturday.

If you don't live in New York, read The Waves. It will change you forever.

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