Photo: Barb Gray.
This adaptation of the William Faulkner novel As I lay dying…remains fairly close to Faulkner’s 15 interior monologues performed here by seven actors who tell the story about a country family living in a fictional town in Mississippi. The Family has sworn to respect the dying wishes of their mother Addie, a tough old lady who wants to be buried in Jefferson. Even in death she dominates their lives. As they make the difficult journey , the calvary as it were, back to Jefferson, they are almost drowned, burned, destroyed as they drag that coffin across the country with mother in it, just to respect her dying wishes. During the trip we learn about each of the children through their monologues which structure the performance, each one producing memories of Addie. explaining their feelings about the farm, the other children and their visions of the world. It is all expressed in a rough but poetic version of a slightly archaic hillbilly talk. This most beguiling language transforms them all into larger than life types, all emerging as grotesque beings within a southern gothic style landscape where they become creatures creating strangely delusional images of their own reality.
Nina Gilmour’s Dewey Dell takes us on her frantic search for the means to get a quick abortion during the trip. Her delirium is beatifully obsessive. It also becomes clear that the father Anse, (Dean Gilmour) , the co-director of the Company is just as tough as his dear departed wife (Michèle Smith also co-director). Treating his children with hard knocks, he is mainly concerned about getting himself new teeth and a new woman in a honkey tonk place in Jefferson. Jefferson is therefore a journey to a place of renewal where, after overcoming hardship, all their lives will begin again.
Associated with this text is the extremely interesting work done with the actors whose bodies recreate a world of sound, visual suggestion, and movement that carries us along on their troubling journey to Jefferson.
Crossing the swollen river that has overflowed its banks is one of the high points of the evening. The sons, carrying, pushing and dragging the coffin, mime, leap as though they were acrobats, make unearthly noises, are attacked by something in the water, and then carried away by the swift current to the bottom of the river where they nearly drown . The boys create the perfect illusion of sinking to the bubbly depths as they keep tight control on their slowly drowning bodies, floating within the watery world, trying with their last gasp to make their way to the surface and eventually rise to the river bank . The event was almost miraculous, showing how the actors manipulate themselves to produce these near cinematic effects, as they gasp , gurgle, choke , suffer and produce disturbing sounds that draw us into the depths of the water with them.
The son Jewel (Ben Muir) , Addie’s favourite, rides his horse during the journey and his close relationship with the moving animal was shown as the actor morphs into both the rider and the horse . Muir heaves his body to become the bucking, nervous horse but then hunches over the back of the animal trying to control his movements the moment the actor suddenly slides into the body of the rider. His relationship with the horse incarnated an uncanny closeness with the animal world. This grotesque image of a family that feels deeply for the mother but that lives under the yoke of ignorance (they pour cement on Cash’s broken leg) and a paternal tyrant completely devoid of sensitivity. Thus appears the image of a troubling society stripped of its humanity, surviving on instinct, in competition with all the other living species on this earth. This company has perfected a form of acting that touches that uncomfortable “ecological” relationship and it was fascinating, but strangely disturbing to watch.
I found the performance exudes a strange attraction and it has moments of great humour . It is something certainly worth discovering.
Take me Back to Jefferson continues until April 11 in the Theatre at the NAC.
Take me Back to Jefferson, adaptation by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour, in collaboration with The Company
Based on William Faulkner’s novel As I lay dying.
Co-directors: Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith
Set and costumes: Teresa Przybylski
Lighting: André du Toit
Julian de Zottie, Darl, etc
Dean Gilmour, Anse etc
Nina Gilmour, Dewy Dell, etc
Ben Muir, Jewell etc…
Daniel Roberts, Vardaman, etc
Michèle Smith, Addie
Dan Watson, Cash etc.