AS I LAY DYING
Theatre Smith-Gilmour, PuSh Festival, BMO GoldCorp Stage January 19th - February 12th
My Two Pence
By Liz Gloucester
As I Lay Dying is a play adapted by Theatre Smith-Gilmour from William Faulkner's 30s gothic novel about the Bundren family following the deathbed wishes of the matriarch to return her body to Jefferson, her place of birth, to be buried.
The play opens with soliloquys from brothers Darl and Jewel about their mother's impending death; focussing on their observations and annoyances at how the family and community is preparing for it. Eldest brother Cash, played by Eli Ham is building Addie Bundren's coffin, just under her window, where she can hear every swish of the saw, creak of the file and crack of the hammer.
The play consists of a slew of stream of consciousness from every character's point of view. These include those of Vardaman, the youngest Bundren as well as from the corpse itself during a scene where the coffin has accidentally fallen into a high rising river. Michele Smith's Addie muses on a half-forgotten love affair she had with the local priest; a secret she managed to take past her life but cannot resist sharing before she reaches her grave. Daniel Robert's care and precision in portraying Vardaman- still a child and unsure of how his mother's death differs from that of his having killed a fish the previous day- is a delight to behold.
One of the most striking aspects of this production was the physicality of the performers; in particular the imagining and interaction with various farmyard animals was breathtaking. Benjamin Muir's Jewel has an unruly horse and by gum did he show the audience just how unruly it was in an exhausting but intricate minute of physical theatre switching between his own persona and that of the untamed beast. The built-upon motifs of the wagon and the transporting of the coffin were also appealing visually; sometimes purely imagined and mimed, sometimes lifting a board and in one scene actually dragging Smith's body seamlessly across the stage. At first I questioned Julian de Zotti's portrayal of Darl, as it seemed a lot more introspective and a lot less physical than those of his brothers, – however as the play progresses and we see the character's spiral into madness, this choice to be more cerebral seems to have been a very clever one indeed.
'As I Lay Dying' is not an easy piece of theatre to watch. It's already morbid subject matter is barrelled upon by other uncomfortable issues, rather like the coffin in the wagon which is almost hidden by the family and baggage surrounding it. They are stalked by buzzards as the corpse begins to smell, making the family unwelcome to most people they meet on the road. We watch as the only Bundren daughter Dewey Dell pleads with a pharmacist to help her get rid of an unwanted pregnancy, a crumpled ten dollar bill in her extended hand. After an accident, eldest brother Cash's broken leg develops a necrosis due to a quick-fix set using concrete and Vardaman drills holes into his mother's coffin thinking it will allow her to breathe but drives the tool into her face forcing them to cover it with a veil.
Theatre Smith-Gilmour drives onwards with this Artaudian energy rarely seen on Vancouver stages. It was not a surprise for me to open the programme at intermission and read that the co-director's had met at Ecole Jacques LeCoq, a school famed for it's stress on the importance of physical gesture and conveyance of message from performer to audience. Several moments in the piece, especially those of extreme physicality seemed to raise quite a few giggles from the matinee crowd. The audience was dragged from it's comfort zone and made witness to an art form which inspired nervous and seemingly ill-timed laughter. This is surely the first step to 'destroy certitude and open up the imagination' .
It is exhausting for an audience member to watch a piece without set, minimal props and sound, and few costume changes-. Not unlike listening to a singer without accompaniment for over two hours. Thank goodness that Theatre Smith-Gilmour's instrument is in tune and their melody so compelling.
1. One of a few visions Theatre Smith Gilmour outline on their website.