The Sound and the Fury
Elevator Repair Service @ Dunstan Playhouse
6:00pm, Sun 14 Mar 2010
I slump into my seat. “This is it,” I think, “my final show.” I’m tired, but I’m here – all I have to do is remain cogniscient for another two-and-a-half hours.
That was much, much easier said than done.
I read the playbill while waiting for the performance to start – and I realise that I’m in trouble. Representing the opening chapter of William Faulkner‘s book, The Sound and the Fury is seen from the point of view of Benjy Compson – a childlike, mentally-retarded 33-year-old who cannot communicate through speech, and who is unable to differentiate between past and present events; they’re all jumbled up in his mind. The chapter – and in this case, the play – is a quagmire of chronologically-mixed memories triggered by one present-day event, as the Compson family (Benjy is the youngest of four children) and their periphery (their neighbours, hired help, and miscellaneous other characters) are laid bare by Benjy’s time-insensitive interpretation.
Now – my brain just about popped a gasket just writing that.
So I’m sitting in the darkened Playhouse, trying to follow the progression of the play… it’s too much. I’m utterly confused, and sleep has a vice-like grip on my eyelids. I give in, letting myself have a quick doze; when I open my eyes again, my head is clearer… but I’m still none-the-wiser.
There’s a lot of fourth-wall breaking going on; actors would deliver their lines, then turn to the audience and reference their character: “…Quentin said.” Initially, I thought this was merely stylistically amusing; soon, however, I realise that it is absolutely essential. Because, as Benjy’s memories flit from present to multiple pasts, so too do the actors flit from character to character; at one stage, Benjy and his Father walk offstage to the left, and immediate back onstage from the right, with different actors in a different time, years earlier.
And that, my friends, is a massive headfuck.
The flipside is that, when you manage to string one, two, or even five minutes of comprehension together, it’s a massively satisfying experience. That’s one of the things that I really like in a production: the concession by the artist to let the audience figure it out for themselves. Sure, that may be a bit too much work for some people (and I, for one, wished that I had at least read the book before seeing this show), but the payoff – as an audience member – is immense.
Massive kudos to the cast, too, capably bouncing between characters and accents in what must have been an insanely difficult play to direct. Their manner was wonderful when a large table, almost the centrepiece of the stage, fell to pieces in the middle of the performance; they carried on regardless until one realised that they would not be able to perform a later movement, then they quietly excused themselves and took a ten minute break while stagehands fixed the problem. The cast returned to the stage without fanfare, the lights dropped, and bang – back into the action.
The Sound and the Fury was, in a way, both the best and worst show with which to end my 2010 Festival Freakdom. It was possibly the most intense show I saw all month, delivered at a time when I was least able to comprehend it properly. But the bits I did glean were oh-so-good.