Thanksgiving Is Ruined
June 05, 2009
g stein staged
. . . in a rare production clearly not for the taste of everybody . . .
"A Family of Perhaps Three" is from Stein's intensely "repetitive" phase of language, circa 1908-12
James Wagner seems absolutely correct in calling the staging a "miracle" tho we might be predisposed . . . .
Are we alone in tending, when reading her headlong repetitive texts, to hear them as if narrated by a commanding, unified voice that we imagine to be Stein's own?
For us, then, the effect was truly liberatory (of the lang., and the story -- Stein's grip finally shaken off? a matricide? or a vindication?) -- through the device of fissioning that voice through three performers
[Similarly we once were knocked out by a student performance of lear with the King played by several women -- simultaneously]
Moreovered on top of that was the chameleonism directorially encouraged from each performer -- with one often deploying the phrasing of a careful, reflective logician; another unafraid to play up the deep comic goofiness we often find in Stein; and a third with the astonishing sort of we-had-faces-then ability to, say, portray six distinct emotional or psychological states in a span of three seconds with eyebrows alone.
All of which delightfully opens up and malleablizes the play of text on the page, in ways that cannot have been foreseen or imagined in the interior thrumming voice heard by the solitary reader.
It's already clear enough that the early Stein's extended-play combination and repetition of a tight set of very few words can cause the sudden arrival or introduction of a new word into the set to have the jarring effect like the entrance onto a theatrical stage of a new character. As here, the feel would be like:
But the opportunity here is for the director & players to surprise us with their personal choices of emphasis and downplay. Which word unexpectedly becomes a throwaway line (e.g., here: "despairing")? Which proposition gets italicisized on stage via the pre-recorded sound of an LP needle rip or a deafening jet engine?
The potential goes beyond drama class exercises -- i.e., how many different ways can you play or put fresh spins on a single line of dialogue? -- (though the usefulness of those drills becomes readily apparent) -- to point to the fluidity & multiple layers of Stein's language that otherwise might fly right past; viz.:
"living" as "condition of being alive, or exhibiting life" vs. as "livelihood, means of subsistence";
All of which = v. appropriate, for a staging that employs an ever shifting set of vintage, dressing room dividing screens (homage to Genet?): sight lines get blocked then open up, planes constantly shift, sisters get walled up together then apart -- as befits a family tale all about (as one might view it) the ever recombining yet slowly evolving interrelationships of closeness, separation, freedom, loneliness, claustrophobia, rivalry, dependence, disclosure, privacy, hiding, selective amnesia, secrets that "everybody knows" but no one discusses, mutual reliance, simmering resentment, and love. Oh those Steins.
Finally: brilliant, sneaking into the hypercollaged mix, by the sound guy, of Mirah's "Dreamboat." What would Leo think? What would Alice?