Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Stories from the Theater World

You might have noticed that I haven't written much about theater lately--well, that's because I'm not really going to a lot of it. I habitually forget to read San Francisco theater listings + the workweek grind's got me down + I tend to see shows on closing weekend, rendering blogging superfluous = a substantially less theater-oriented marissabidilla.

I've been relying on friends to invite me to the theater--usually it's the other way around--and in that way I've seen (embarrassingly) just four plays in three months. Two crazy little plays in Berkeley--one the inaugural production of a college friend's new theater company, the other an irreverent and very enjoyable play about Asian American identity called Ching Chong Chinaman--and two others in San Francisco.

My favorite play of these past months was Word for Word Theater's More Stories by Tobias Wolff. This theater company's modus operandi is to "stage short stories, performing every word the author has written," and I'd been curious to see a show done in this style ever since I heard of Seattle's Book-It Repertory Theater, which does something similar.

Now, in a conventionally written play, it tends to annoy me when the author makes the characters narrate their actions or speak in the third person (don't give me narration! give me dialogue! and conflict!) but that didn't happen when I went to More Stories by Tobias Wolff. The stories were adapted with great care--every decision to assign a word or a sentence to an actor/character was well thought out. Sometimes these choices were made for humor, sometimes for poignancy. There were also some fun theatrical elements like having a young woman in a red minidress portray a sleek sports car. Care was also taken to have the costumes, sets, and other visual elements match whatever Tobias Wolff's descriptions specified.

In seeing these three Wolff stories enacted before me (all from his most recent book, Our Story Begins) I noticed their kinship to classic works of drama--the interconnections between different art forms. The final story of the evening was narrated by a man looking back on an incident from his childhood; and so when transformed into a theater piece, it became a really solid example of a "memory play." In reductive terms, it was like a softer, less devastating Glass Menagerie--indeed, the title of the Wolff story/play was "Firelight," and "Candlelight" would be a good alternate title for the last part of The Glass Menagerie, wouldn't it?

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