02 April 2012

Wallaceblogging: Taking a tennis ball to the face for literature

Over the weekend I went to "A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (after David Foster Wallace)," a conceptual theater piece based on the work of DFW in Long Island City, Queens. The performance consisted of five actors listening to Wallace read from several of his works (and clips from an extended interview) on headphones and simultaneously performing them, including when audible the mannerisms they could hear in his voice. Sometimes just one actor spoke, and sometimes they all did, but it wasn't so much a performance of Wallace the man as of Wallace the body of work; for one thing, four of the five actors were female and none of them wore, say, the characteristic white bandana or some other kind of physical signifier linking them to the man.

The pieces read include "Forever Overhead" and "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life," from BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, the 9/11 essay "The View From Mrs. Thompson's" (PDF) published in Rolling Stone and the titularly referenced essay (PDF).

I heard about this show from fellow Foster fanatic Peter W. Knox and it sounded like exactly the kind of 'thing' I would be 'into' even if it weren't about DFW, being into various forms of experimental theater and small, crazy productions. What struck me the hardest about "Supposedly Fun Thing" was how individual it seemed in the moment. Without knowing anything about creator and director Daniel Fish (although I found out after I had seen him direct a Charles Mee play in 2008) his curation of the particular pieces felt very personal, even if it wasn't at all. Undoubtedly if I had been tasked to assemble the same piece I would pick a few different passages, if not completely different. (There was nothing from THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM nor INFINITE JEST included, to begin with.) Anyone with an affinity for a particular author will take different pieces away from it.

While nothing onstage was as interesting as the text being read to me (although I appreciated the sound cue for "Thirteen") and I found one actor's pronunciation actually subtracting from the work she was saying, watching this show, being gathered for it, felt like the kind of public event I never was able to go to for this author. Living authors get book tours, when they're lucky, but it's harder to organize read-alouds for the ones who can't. At the beginning (knowing almost nothing about what was going to happen) I wasn't convinced that being read aloud is the best delivery mechanism for Wallace's text, and you guessed it, I'm still not convinced that it is. Yet it has a scrabbly rhythm all its own, even one that might call for an impossibly Herculean set of lungs.

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