The difficulty with deconstruction is that it presupposes an audience's knowledge of a play's subject. In the second part of his Hawthorne trilogy, director/adapter Tim Maner largely circumvented the problem with a lucid production. Even without a prior familiarity with The House of the Seven Gables, it was possible to glean the essentials of the plot -- although that was a slow and sometimes tedious process.
The piece took place around the edges of HERE's black-box theatre; the audience stood in the center of the space as the play moved around, past, and among them. The company, an ensemble of 20 actors, played living and dead members of the Pyncheon and Maule families, embroiled in a multi-generational blood-feud over Maule's land. Maner established three interconnected worlds: first, the tour guide Alex, a docent for the actual House in Salem. Although she has no contact with the fictitious figures in the house, she is strangely drawn to them. Next are the Living -- the characters who were Hawthorne's ``contemporaries'' -- the last generation of the Pyncheon/Maule clans. Finally, the Dead -- ghosts of generations past, who relate the events that led to the current state of affairs, as well as offering commentary on the present action. The effect was not unlike a three-ring circus -- there were often multiple monologues and dialogues running simultaneously, and the audience inevitably missed certain things by pursuing others. While occasionally frustrating, this device could also be aurally stunning. Ultimately, 7 made its impact felt after the piece was concluded -- once the audience had time to assimilate the various images, draw the disparate threads together, and reassemble the story for itself.
Maner and his company created some beautifully surreal images -- for example, four identical spectres in white, differentiated from one another only by the cut of their gowns, represented the former Mrs. Pyncheons; each wore a holographic eye around her throat. They composed a chorus which spoke, variously, as a harpsichord, a well, and the wind, and they had an attachment to china cups and saucers that was pure David Lynch. Alex's final assimilation into the fictive world of the House was also gripping.
The production elements were all strong, particularly Nancy Brous's costumes. She did an excellent job of defining and differentiating the three groups of characters, all of whom required period clothes. The lighting, by Allen Hahn, was also valuable in distinguishing time and place. The actors performed strongly as an ensemble, although none of the individual performances was especially noteworthy. Moreover, the acoustics in the performance space were problematic, and few of the actors were wholly comprehensible. Some of the strongest moments were the infrequent songs, composed by Stephen A. F. Day, Matthew Pierce, and Stephen Struber. The vocal performances were haunting and sweet, as was the ambient music played by Day and Pierce.
Ultimately, the piece, despite its flaws, was fluid and memorable.
Copyright 1996 Melanie White
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