Take me back to Jefferson: a fascinating corporeal performance that sets this family in competition with all the other living species on the earth.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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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

Cast:

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.


Past Reviews