Santa Clara University professor puts a twist on Hawthorne’s classic
October 11, 2018
A man stands before a woman, speaking cryptically and poetically. The room darkens and becomes green. The pair—a couple on the brink—descend to their hands and knees and begin to crawl around each other in circles.
This is “Wakefield.”
The San Francisco-based play, adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of the same title, features Santa Clara’s own Brian Thorstenson, a lecturer in the department of theater and dance. “Wakefield” has immense force: the playwright uses peculiar, sometimes feverish dialogue and physical movement that exposes his intent more immediately than his words. He thus demands participation in his otherworldly imagination and curiosity.
The play begins when the titular Wakefield leaves his wife, just to live in a nearby apartment for the next 20 years. Wakefield, an ordinary man, represents an anomaly of human nature that dooms him to “another world.” While Hawthorne writes that “we will not follow our friend across the threshold” upon his return, Thorstenson does just that and succeeds in spades.
Wakefield “loses the perception of singularity in his conduct,” as well as his normal awareness of time. This break from temporal and social reality is no simple, insane anecdote. Readers recognize in themselves the same selfishness that led Wakefield to escape his slow life. When “all the miserable strangeness of [Wakefield’s] life is revealed,” so too is some of that in our own. Along with this revelation come philosophical questions that Thorstenson explores with abstract, minimalistic theatrical sensibilities.
Anne Darragh plays his wife Sophia, and as the audience enters she is reading on a chair beside an ottoman. Bruce Belton creates an atmosphere in this scene with his minimalist clarinet playing.
As the conceptual, non-linear story grows windier and windier, Thorstenson’s writing bears the bulk of the weight in carrying the story to a successful conclusion. The two actors succeed in keeping viewers more concerned with his bizarre world. Belton’s clarinet, the lighting and their acting texture and define scenes that cross great temporal distances within 20 square feet of hardwood floor—the same hardwood floor on which the audience sits in chairs, in a three-quarter round arrangement.
The production is bare and small but the play pushes its own boundaries by having Rowena Richie “wreck” the show. To wreck, in this context, is to contribute an alternative direction or choreography to a show, which Richie did in a creative flurry. She, Thorstenson and Darragh bustled around the small set while the house lights were up, and communicated with the audience as they reshaped “Wakefield” in real time. Richie modified certain scenes with conceptual clarity that only became clear after she had said her full piece, such was their boldly experimental nature.
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