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Open: 02/10/09- Close: 02/28/09 Chuck.chuck.chuck.
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Shari Perkins
JJ Lind ©2017  Siobhan Towey as Dewey Dell Bundren; Max Dana as Cash Bundren.

Though they wallow in the dirt, the downtrodden Bundren clan rise to poetic heights in Chuck.chuck.chuck, Immediate Medium's fascinating if flawed staging of As I Lay Dying.

Written in fifty-nine episodes narrated by fifteen different characters, William Faulkner's 1930 masterpiece is an ambitious choice for a stage adaptation. The novel depicts the restless Bundren family as they await the death of their mother, Addie. Upon her passing, the family undertakes a seemingly Sisyphean journey to take her body to her hometown for burial. Both during the vigil by their mother's bedside and along the long, dusty road to Jefferson, the family members wrestle with grinding poverty, deep-seated sibling rivalry, unwanted pregnancy, and their mother's death.

As I Lay Dying is well-suited to the stage thanks to the novel's richly defined characters and intense interpersonal conflicts. Oleg Tabakov's theatre in Moscow currently features a two-and-a-half-hour version directed by Mindaugas Karbauskis which is a tour de force of gritty realism and understated direction; JJ Lind's trim hour-and-40-minute adaptation -- billed as a collage of video, music, dance, and text -- may be gritty but certainly isn't realism.

Lind and production designer Maki Takenouchi have transformed Collapsable Hole into a backwoods of red dirt, barren trees, and rickety porches. The evocative design blends with the space's exposed beams and insulation to create a perfect picture of rural poverty. Suzie Chung's costumes -- mostly white shirts, various forms of jeans, and accessories -- become covered with the red soil as the Bundrens kneel, crawl, and flail on the ground around their mother's white coffin. Max Dana lights the space with footlights and low-hanging bare bulbs, creating a moody, shadowy world. The production is greatly enhanced by live music and an otherworldly and pervasive sound design and projections by Rob Ramirez.

JJ Lind ©2017  Megan Campisi as Jewel Bundren

Lind and his company excel in blending acting, dance, movement, and music; the finest moments of the production have been composed and choreographed to create a poetry of performance. Michael Rushton (Darl Bundren) performs a triumphant guitar-and-vocal rendition of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" -- sung after Addie's death – which breaks into a full company number in which every gesture and sound adds to the collective grief. Similarly, another movement segment which begins with sleepless child Vardaman's tossing and turning and ends with the family's disastrous attempt to ford a flooded river is an effective and absorbing example of physical storytelling.

JJ Lind ©2017  Hugh Sinclair as Anse Bundren; Siobhan Towey as Dewey Dell Bundren

Although there isn't a weak performer in the company, Siobhan Towey as daughter Dewey Dell and Liz Vacco as youngest son Vardaman give particularly memorable performances. Towey is fortunate to have the best text, including an arresting monologue describing the day of harvesting which led to her unwanted pregnancy and a succession of monologues and scenes charting her thwarted attempts to “treat” her condition. Vacco – who also served as choreographer for the show – affectingly portrays Vardaman as a youngster who is unable to comprehend the implications of Addie's death.

Unfortunately, the narrative in Chuck.chuck.chuck lacks clarity; the production would have benefited from closer attention basic storytelling. Even with knowledge of the novel's plot, it is difficult to identify the characters and their predicaments for the first half-hour of the show. This problem was compounded by the fragmented text and the gloomy lighting, which – while effective – made it difficult to see the performers clearly. Although this flaw in the narrative flow recedes once the Bundrens begin their journey to Jefferson, there are still occasional lapses. Would anyone understand how and why Jewel gets burned in the latter part of the show if they didn't already know the story well?

Nevertheless, Immediate Medium's Chuck.chuck.chuck is fascinating theatre; one hopes that they will continue to refine this text so that it can reach its full potential.


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Venue:
Collapsable Hole : 146 Metropolitan Ave