Monday, February 8, 2010

Faigen back with a 'Simple' play. Sort of.

Don’t get tripped up by the irony: Joshua Faigen’s new play, called “A Very Simple Play” is anything but simple. Even the playwright isn’t exactly sure what’s he’s got, as far as form goes. It is not, strictly speaking, a play and it’s not a recital. It’s a performance, he says, in which the music is spoken as words and the words are played as music. It alternates between music and dialogue, with one informing the other, but it’s not musical theater — not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s built around Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanzes,” a glorious piece by a fabulously insane Romantic composer, written for a group, a society, called the League of David, whose purpose was to defend the cause of Romantic music against the revanchist forces, the classical creeps lurking in the wing — a group whose personnel included, at one point, a guy named Brahms as well as two people (Florestan and Eusebius) who didn’t actually exist, but who had the good sense to manifest the different sides of the composer’s personality. Yeah, it’s always something with this guy.

The Merrimac Street playwright is certainly capable of writing nice, straight-ahead plays, like “Gail Can See for Three Days,” in which a woman facing execution tells her story in an exploration of passion, loneliness and broken taboos. But Faigen seems just as happy sticking his finger in the eye of the conventions of the form, like conventional, linear plots, or even in terms of content. Like his psychologically complex “Docent’s Son,” which tells the story of a museum volunteer trying to come to terms with the death of her son, through the language of an abstract painting. Or ”Home/Office,” in which 14 unorthodox scenes convey the complexity of marriage and work. Or the almost novelistic approach he takes in “Porch/Dusk,” a short about a Marine bereavement specialist whose job it is to deliver terrible, terrible news — a piece that ended up as an old-timey radio play. Or “Sikyatki,” a play about Hopi mythology, of all things — a collaboration with Tim Rubel and Rhode Island Theatre Expansion that ended up being as much a dance piece as play.

In “A Very Simple Play,” Schumann’s ”Davidsbundlertanzes,” which is, at turns, brooding and joyous, simple but beautiful, is performed in its entirety. The music is interwoven with the story of two people whose lives revolve around music, the piano. They talk about the melancholy of the past and the sadness of love, they talk about their lives, but, as in many Faigen plays, a lot of the heavy lifting, the specifics about who they are and what their story is, will be done by the audience. The two characters are connected in a deep and long-term way, although not necessarily happily. They have an intimate knowledge of each other. They may or may not be married. They look and sound like a married couple, with issues — perhaps trust issues. They mention a son. Faigen sees them as middle aged, but “the audience can make up its mind about that, too,” he says. “God forbid I be specific about anything.”

The production will feature Missy Chabot and Sandy Farrier as Man and Woman. Barbara Flocco will be at the keyboard. Sarah Chrestensen will be the page-turner. The pianist and page-turner are not named as characters, have no spoken lines and are not directly addressed by the actors, but their presence, the playwright says, is important to setting the tone of the play. Sherry Bonder directs.

The project “kind of chose me,” says Faigen, after he caught Anton Kuerti at the 2007 Rockport Chamber Music Festival and picked up a 1990 recording of “Davidsbundlertanzes” on the product table. The music “took me over,” he says. “It’s very magnetic. It attracts you, it sucks you in.” And the storyline? That’s not so easy to pin down. “I don’t know where this came from,” he says. He acknowledges that the production will be something of a risk. “In my head, it works perfectly,” he says. “We’ll see how it goes on stage.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative will stage Newburyport playwright Joshua Faigen’s “A Very Simple Play” at 10 a.m. Feb. 13 at the home on Stephen and Deidre Faria. The show features performances by Missy Chabot and Sandy Farrier. Sherry Bonder directs. Barbara Flocco is the pianist and Sarah Chrestensen is the page-turner. The show is free, reservations are recommended. For more information, check out the Actors Studios web or call 978.462.1229.

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