Word for Word - More Stories by Tobias Wolff
Some time ago, we went to see Word for Word, a part of the ambitious Z Space collective, in a production of Daniel Handler's (Lemony Snicket) Adverbs. These are productions in which prose is read as a play, with the characters layering on the language that surrounds their normal discourse. It makes for a rich literary and performance experience, and we were entranced. These 15th Anniversary performances at the Magic Theatre at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, were based on three short stories by Tobias Wolff, Sanity, Down to Bone, and Firelight. Each of them revolves around the uncertainties of relationship, and the flights of fancy that flow from relationship.
In Sanity, a young woman struggles to make sense of the relationship of her stepmother and her own father, and soon realizes the desired relationship she has, or had, with the stepmother. In Down to Bone, a son attends to his dying mother, and in preparing for her end enters a riotous world of fantasy, only returning to a genuine insight, that I found useful in my own life. As he returns to his mother, not yet dead, still needful, he comes to the reality that "I no longer know how to be a son, but I do know how to be a father." And in that guise he attends to the parent/child, who imagines him as "daddy." This is a role, I think, that we are all destined to play.
Finally, there is a very moving tale, Firelight, in which a young boy, accompanied by his mother, attempts to find family. He so desparately needs this relationship, one far beyond that that his mother struggles to provide, that a forty-five minute sojourn with a family in an apartment they are looking to rent becomes a family fantasy light by the warm light of a fireplace. I was struck by the quick metaphor that Mr. Wolff provides in the short story. As the mother and son return home they are accompanied briefly by a black dog who walks with them for a bit and then leaves. The brief walk with the dog and the hopes and dreams that accompany that brief walk are the stuff of this story.
These are engaging scenes done with care and elan by a wonderful cast (Anthony Nemirovsky, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Paul Finocchiaro, Stephanie Hunt, and Michelle Pava Mills.) The sets are well done, and the musical accompaniments, recorded, match the mood and scene. This is wonderful stuff. Go see it!
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