Presented by Basement Flat with support from Adobe Theatre Company at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., NYC, May 2-25.
The fact that William Faulkner never turned his novel in monologues, "As I Lay Dying," into a play suggests that perhaps he did not think it would work on stage. The stage adaptation by Basement Flat proves this contention, although some of the play is stageworthy. Directed and adapted by Andrew Grosso, this is an ambitious and praiseworthy undertaking, though unsatisfying in its execution. "As I Lay Dying" remains a series of monologues, never a play.
Faulkner's novel is told by 17 narrators in 59 monologues. Although intended as Southern speech, it is not written in dialect. It includes unspoken thoughts and leaves out transitions and other pertinent information—much information must be deduced by readers. As Grosso's 95-minute adaptation adds nothing and makes cuts, much is left unexplained. Although Eliza Brown's scenic design includes slide projections, these don't add much to the minimalist staging. On some levels the novel is an hilarious black comedy, but this never comes through in the production.
The lack of accents of the Deep South, coupled with the rather bland characterizations, create a colorless and tepid atmosphere. As the greedy, vicious Anse, who must fulfill his promise to his dying wife to bury her many miles away in Jefferson, Miss., during flood season, Arthur Aulisi makes little impression. As his three adult sons, Tommy Schrider, Thomas Piper, and Drew Cortese are not sufficiently differentiated, though Cortese as Jewel hints at a dark intensity. As the pregnant 17-year-old daughter, Dewey Dell, Tate Henderson is believably innocent and simple-minded. However, why the youngest son, Vardaman, is played by Sarah Bellows as a tomboy defies imagination. Among the supporting cast, Eric Martin Brown has just the right amount of swagger and charisma as Skeets, the soda jerk who seduces Dewey Dell.