Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bartleby the Scrivener

Who would have imagined Bartleby on stage? Smushed as I was in a corner, at the edge of the stage with a cold and a lap-full of cough drops and remembering the longish experience of wading through the story I had my concerns about the experiment. But it was for naught. R.L. Lane has adapted Herman Melville's existential 19th-century tale quite ably. The set, the dialogue, the acting, all was quite perfect—and to my surprise, the play passed by with admirable lightness and speed.  

The play’s absurdist foundation seemed to me very relevant, and in post-play discussions—and in the The Times review—people suggested adjusting Bartleby’s medication. This thought never occurred to me either during or after the play. The matter with Bartleby is not so simple. And that’s really the beauty of the piece, and this production.

The only flaw I found was in the relationship between Standard and Bartleby. We see that Bartleby awes Standard in some way, and this fact is easily as absurd as Bartleby’s behaviour. This might have suffered from the decision to break in and out of narration. In this way, Standard tells us much of the story. Overall the narration works well, with seamless cuts in and out of action. But telling the audience one is “awed” by Bartleby, and one is “watching” Bartleby, isn’t as powerful as seeing Standard’s transformation. For as much as Bartleby becomes more Bartleby, in some way his presence allows Standard to become more (or less) standard…

An interesting production, worth seeing, particularly for folks interested in the process of adaptation, the play runs through Nov. 27 at the Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 East 24th Street, Manhattan, (212) 868-4444.

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