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A CurtainUp Review
Carson McCullers Talks About Love

I periodically have to return home to the South to renew my sense of Horror .—
Carson McCullers Talks About Love
Suzanne Vega in Carson McCullers Talks About Love
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
When the singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega enters the stage, she begins her musical performance about Carson McCullers with a personal anecdote from her past, about picking up a biography on the author, and being surprised at the young girl staring back at her from the cover. Vega, like most, assumed Carson McCullers was a man. She admired the author but thought the stark, noir writing was a man's voice, so. the young girl on the cover caught her attention and a spark of recognition. In fact, she looked like Carson McCullers.

Vega brings a copy of the McCullers book on stage, and so the young girl, with bangs like Vega and a similarly shaped face and duly serious eyes, stares out at the audience for the show's entirety. She then becomes McCullers, putting on a darker wig and physically embodying a different self. Her face becomes rigid, her speech pattern staccato and serious, with a slight Southern twang.

As McCullers, Vega cherry picks vignettes from the author's life, always making sure to circle back to her various romantic relationships with men and women, from drug addicts to her artistic peers. We learn about the young author's precocious life in Georgia, her early marriage to Reeves McCullers, her talents on the piano. McCullers' dependency on alcohol and attention quickly become constants in this memoir, along with her struggle for happiness.

About a dozen times during this ninety-minute performance Vega slides into song, backed by a jocular pianist, and obedient guitarist. Her distinctive voice is soothing and confident (only betrayed by Vega's lack of sureness in her lines). The songs explore moments in McCullers' life and possibly her emotional states. They are a sort of easy folk-rock with pleasing chords, and not - too - somber lyrics (all music is written by Vega and Duncan Sheik).

The performance is a strange stepchild of a cabaret/song cycle. There is a fair amount of monologue-ing, and the songs, however lovely, do not enhance the story itself. Vega also tends to rely a bit (perhaps too much) on her McCullers props — there is more than one glass of alcohol on the stage, and more than a handful of cigarette puffs taken. But there is something endearing about this singer's homage to the mysterious McCullers, and her bravery at attacking a new art form and it is not to be overlooked that this is Suzanne Vega's first public foray into writing material beyond presentation as music. Her prose is sensitive, and showcases her deep respect — and possibly even love — for the mysterious McCullers.

Although there may be better actors than Vega, she does an impressive job embodying the author. And, let's face it, Vega's musicality and original voice is something many of us have a deep respect for, and, like myself, even love.

Carson McCullers Talks About Love br> Written and Performed by Suzanne Vega
Directed by Kay Matschullat

Music written by Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik
Musicians: Joe Iconis and Andy Stack
Production Stage Manager Melissa Mae Gregus br> Lighting Designer: Lenore Doxsee
Scenic Designer: Louisa Thompson
Costume Designer: Jessica Pabst
Sound Designer: Nick Kouides
Music Director: Gerry Leonard
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place 2212 868 4444
From April 20 - June 4, opening May 5
Wednesday through Saturdays @ 800pm, Mondays @8pm, Sundays @3pm Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on 5/2/11 performance
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