A Partial Who's Who at MoMFest 2000
Core Performance ManufactoryThe Difficulty of Crossing a Field
John Henry Faulk Living Theatre
In Selma, Alabama, in 1854, Mr. Williamson crosses an open field in midday. And vanishes without a trace. In front of witnesses that include slaves, neighbors, and his family. In playwright Mac Wellman's take on the Ambrose Bierce story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field," language is often obscure, rhythmic, and dense, and the disappearance takes on a mythic, sometimes religious meaning, even as it quietly probes the growing turmoil of life in the Deep South before the Civil War.
As performed by Dallas' Core Performance Manufactory, Wellman's subtle commentary on the place, period, and characters in the story takes on the qualities of an ethereal dance. Explains CPM artistic director Elizabeth Ware; "[We] combine poetic text, music, and movement. We tell our stories using those three 'languages.' As a result, the productions tend to be rather dreamlike. Although they may make sense on an intellectual level, they also make sense on a more primal level. The music and the movement have their own logic."
The music, performed live by Kim Corbet, changes with each performance. Alternately haunting and folky, Corbet's music buoys the work of the actors whose physical and vocal work range from mechanical and percussive to lithe and melodic. Completing the company's creative trio is choreographer Deanna Deck, "our movement designer," says Ware. "She was trained as a dancer, studied with Merce Cunningham, and has been a professional ballerina. Her interests now have turned toward theatrical movement and how some of the principles of dance, and the storytelling of dance, can be combined with theatre and text."
The company put five weeks of detailed and sometimes strenuous rehearsals into staging the 40-minute play, and the finished product is sharp and sophisticated. Throughout, it is evident how physically demanding it is to perform, even though the performers appear to work without effort, which makes the play even more compelling. Constance Gold is charming in her portrayal of the sometimes joyful, sometimes intense Williamson Girl, the vanished man's young daughter: Is it her fault that her father disappeared? Mark O'Dell compels as both the mud-caked, bemused farmer-neighbor James Wren and the concerned Magistrate trying to make sense and maintain order in the wake of this mysterious occurance. Playing the slave Sam, John Babineaux proves himself another actor with a gift for intensity in movement and word. All six cast members work together to create a world of mystery and implied horror. The looming shadow of the Civil War and all the attendant discomfort around the people of Selma in 1854 seems particularly close to the surface of this piece. The strange disappearance of the landlord, Mr. Williamson, played eerily facing upstage by the formal and black-clad Martin Holden, lends the story that final stamp of authenticity.
CPM chose to share their work with Austin audiences at MoMFest because, as Ware says, "I've heard great things about the Austin theatre community. Austin has audiences that are used to and understand experimental work." If you missed this piece, there are plans for a new one: "Called Heart of Christmas, it combines Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness." Perhaps the company can be persuaded to return to Austin to share its beguiling, intricate work.