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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
As I Lay dying

A man keeps his promise to his dying wife by bearing her coffin in a mule-drawn wagon 40 miles to her family cemetery. Their three grown sons, their pregnant unwed daughter and their little boy make up the funeral procession, pushing the wagon up hill, through Biblical fire and flood, while vultures wheel overhead drawn to the coffin’s deteriorating burden and passers-by hold their breath and cover their faces. In this bizarre form William Faulkner dissects the American family in his 1930 novel As I Lay Dying. His humanity, honesty and profound psychological penetration of these people and their culture are heightened by the powerful literary style and symbolism which are his trademarks.

Although the novel’s short scenes, pungent dialogue and dramatic incidents make adapter Edward Kemp’s task easier, his challenge is in the sculpting of the stream of consciousness monologues that reveal character. He succeeds brilliantly, honoring Faulkner’s meaning and language while preserving the naturalness of this poor farm family.

Though Addie Bundren is dead, she is a more vibrant presence than any of her family and appears in the second act to tell her story, dressed in what appears to be her turn-of-the-century wedding dress. She despises her obtuse husband Anse. When she bore her first child, she said, "I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it." In one of Faulkner’s deepest set pieces, Addie describes the inadequacy of words to express true feelings.

Her greatest love is fixed on her third son, Jewell, fathered by Reverend Whitfield. Sin is much discussed by neighbor Cora Tull and Addie. Oddly, it is only the women who seem obsessed by sin, except for Rev. Whitfield. This concept is echoed by young Skeet MacGowan, a drugstore employee, who tries to tell the desperate pregnant Dewey Dell that he’s a doctor, even though he looks young, because women flock to young doctors. Jewell is bitter, frustrated, unloving and violent. Oldest son Cash, who seems the most stable of the family, sustains a severe leg injury in the flood. Second son Darl is a favorite Faulkner type, mentally deficient but with an uncanny intuition that makes him unbearable to his fierce unloved sister Dewey Dell. Faulkner catches the poetic simplicity in the child Vardaman's view of unfolding events. “Jewell’s mother is a horse,” he says perceptively, describing Jewell’s devotion to the horse he bought. The brilliant stroke of dark comedy with which Faulkner ends his tale broadens our view of Anse and leaves us on the brink of his astonished family’s future.

Director Stefan Novinski and his excellent cast have found the balance between these fierce suffering people, developing both the “aloneness” and the common quality that Faulkner saw. Novinski breaks the play out of its raked stage with the use of shadows and puppets, sharply designed by Heather Henson, behind a backlit screen. Jewell’s horse, an almost mythic creature, and the vultures that follow the odyssey of this funeral cortege reinforce the sense of a rural place. Donna Marquet’s earth-toned sparse scenic design, superbly lighted by Andrea Housh, complements the concept. Drew Dalzell’s sound design, utilizing folk tunes, completes the sense of inhabiting the place which Faulkner christened Yoknapatawpha County.

Playwright: Edward Kemp’s adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel
Director: Stefan Novinski
Cast: Tish Hicks (Addie), Rod Sell (Anse), Joe Hulser (Cash), Joe Mellis (Darl), Ryan Honey (Jewell), Lisa Soloway (Dewey Dell), Kalan Shires (Vardaman), John Schumacher (Vernon Tull), Jessica Ires Morris (Cora Tull), Christopher Spencer (Dr. Peabody, Gillespie), Jeff Elam (Rev. Whitfield), Jeff Varner (Samson), Bradley Spann (Armstid), Tom Jermain (Moseley), Shawn MacAulay (Skeet MacGowan)
Set Design: Donna Marquet
Lighting Design: Andrea Housh
Costume Design: Christal Weatherly
Sound Design: Drew Dalzell
Shadow Sequence: Heather Henson
Running Time: Two hours, 20 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission
Running Dates: March 21-May 10, 2003
Where: Open Fist Theatre Company, 1625 N. La Brea, Hollywood, Ph: (323) 882-6912
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 18.
Playbill Broadway Yearbook


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