Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word for Word

For certain fortunate authors their works will have more forms of life than just the printed page. There is the regular movie option with the script usually written by someone else and judged more - or less - successful, usually “less” from the perspectives of those who have read the book. There is the audio book format, sometimes read by the author, more often read by someone else. More recently the printed word has found its way into an e-book to be read on one’s computer or on a handheld device such as a Kindle. And then there is Word for Word.

This is a professional theater company in San Francisco that stages short stories and book chapters, performing every word (including “and he said” “and she said”) the author has written. Their most recent production, widely acclaimed by the critics and audiences, was of three short stories by Tobias Wolff taken from his latest collection, Our Story Begins. This anthology includes 21 previously published stories as well as 10 new ones. The stories in this production were “Sanity,” “Down to Bone,” and Firelight.” They are a mixture of comedy, poignancy, grief, love, reflection, and a little sex. The same cast of 5 actors performed all three stories, though not all 5 appeared in each story.

If you are not familiar with this company, you may be wondering whether, with the content already taken care of (I was tempted to say “spoken for”), there remains any real avenue for creativity. All I can say is that the staging has to be seen to be believed. The sets, costumes and choreography all combine to bring these stories to another level of meaning from just the written word. For example, in “Down to Bone” (one of the previously unpublished stories), the son who has come to visit his dying mother has rented a “lollipop-red Miata.” To say that the Miata is portrayed by a sexy young woman in a red vinyl mini dress does not begin to convey the success of this interpretation.

As this is the second time that Word for Word has performed some of Tobias Wolff’s stories, I can only hope that there will be more. I certainly recommend that you add Word for Word to your “reading.”

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