The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)

BY THE BOOK Ben Williams, front, recites from Faulkner.

BY THE BOOK Ben Williams, front, recites from Faulkner. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

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. (See also "Authorial intense")

New York Theatre Workshop. Text by William Faulkner. Created by Elevator Repair Service. Dir. John Collins. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.