The Sound and the Fury: Theater review by David Cote
The weirdest yet homiest of Elevator Repair Service’s trilogy of literature-based performances, this ravishing immersion into William Faulkner (first seen in 2008 at New York Theatre Workshop) demands patience and calmness in the midst of sensory overload. Like the piece’s developmentally disabled central character, Benjy (played by the singular Susie Sokol and, on alternate performances, by the equally compelling Aaron Landsman and Pete Simpson), you feel like this world is full of bewildering signals, but also profound beauty. This may be the most emotional show I’ve seen by ERS, longtime masters of collaging found text, dance and intricate soundscapes. The formal coolness and ironizing detachment is still there, but relaying a tale that overflows with inchoate family sadness and childhood alienation.
Typical of ERS, the performance virtuosity is amazing. Twelve wonderful actors juggle genders, ages and ethnicities, playing members of the Compson household from 1898 to 1928 in nonlinear memory fragments floating through Benjy’s head. It’s Southern Gothic via Joycean pastiche, and while director John Collins & Co. use supertitles and costume pieces to keep timelines and identities clear, you may still get lost. But here, losing your way is how you get home.—David Cote
Public Theater (Off Broadway). Created by Elevator Repair Service. Text by William Faulkner. Dir. John Collins. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. No intermission.
Following is David Cote's 2008 review of The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928), in its world-premiere production at New York Theatre Workshop
In an essay about his 1929 masterwork, The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner mused that after he wrote the revolutionary novel, “I learned to read and quit reading.” At the risk of falling into hyperbole, I must say that if you see Elevator Repair Service’s utterly original version of the book’s first chapter, you will learn to see theater, and might quit going. ERS’s production is that pure—a stunning act of choreographed literary transmutation that still retains a humble, goofy sense of humor in its deep reading of a dense modernist text.
Every aspect of the show—created by the ensemble, directed by John Collins and featuring a hauntingly atmospheric soundscape by Matt Tierney—is lovingly crafted. The set installation is the sitting room of the Compsons, the decaying Mississippi clan that Faulkner surveys. The first chapter is seen through the eyes of Benjy, the family’s mentally disabled son. Benjy’s mind roves over memories and sensations that span 30 years; he dwells on his beloved sister, Caddy, and becomes mesmerized by shapes and colors.
The 75-page text, rendered verbatim by a versatile cast of 12, is a daunting mass of nonlinear, impressionist writing. Of course it’s difficult to follow; placing the audience in the same position as the “idiot” Benjy is part of the point. But for all of Collins & Co.’s deliberate obfuscations and juggling of roles among multiple actors, there are moments of shocking clarity that break your heart; so much, everything, is signified.—David Cote
New York Theatre Workshop (Off Broadway). Text by William Faulkner. Created by Elevator Repair Service. Directed by John Collins. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.