Take Me Back to Jefferson: Commedia d’ell arte and Bundren family make for strange bedfellows

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Categories: Professional Theatre

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Photo: Katherine Fleitas

Hillbillies and commedia d’ell arte are an unlikely combination, but this is the style delivered in Theatre Smith-Gilmour’s Take Me Back to Jefferson.

In adapting William Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour rely primarily on physical theatre and the imagination of their audiences rather than on elaborate sets or lengthy speeches.

The dying matriarch of the family wants to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson. Therefore, her poverty-stricken family attempts to comply, meeting the extreme challenges of flood, fire and impassable roads along the way — not to mention one of their number losing his mind, a second breaking his leg (stupidly cast in concrete) — while their selfish patriarch bullies them all, the pregnant, teenage daughter of the house tries to arrange for an abortion and a little cruelty to animals is thrown in for good measure.

There is little charm in the material — unless you happen to be a died-in-the-wool Faulkner fan — and there are many problems in turning a dense novel of this type into a stage piece. But content aside, one has to admire the ability of the performers to bring the text to life with virtually no external aids, except for André Du Toit’s fine lighting design. Particularly noteworthy is Ben Muir’s performance as Jewel, the horse-loving brother.

Yet, admirable as much of the quality of the physical theatre is, Take Me Back to Jefferson is simply too long and too much of the same. And for my money, commedia d’ell arte and the Bundren family are just too strange as bedfellows.

Take Me Back to Jefferson continues at the NAC Theatre to April 11.

 

Take Me Back to Jefferson

Adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour

Based on As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

A Theatre Smith-Gilmour Production (Toronto) at the NAC Theatre

Co-directors: Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour

Set and costumes: Teresa Przybylski

Lighting: André Du Toit

 

Cast:

Darl, Samson……………………………………….Julian de Zotti

Anse, Moseley, Rev. Whitfield, Quick…………….Dean Gilmour

Dewy Dell, Little John, Lula……………………….Nina Gilmour

Jewel, Peabody, the Marshall………………………Ben Muir

Vardaman, Armstid…………………………………Daniel Roberts

Addie………………………………………………..Michele Smith

Cash, Tuli, Gillespie, MacGowan…………………..Dan Watson


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