By Steven Babyak
Think you’ve seen The Sound and the Fury? Not unless you’ve seen the version by Elevator Repair Service at the Public Theater. This version is a theatrical staging of “the Benjy chapter” of William Faulkner’s famous novel. The large ensemble cast plays multiple roles throughout the show, and different cast members play the same character at different points in the show. It sounds confusing, but it’s not. This is all made very clear through the show, as the characters state their names (such as “Caddy says”) each time it is their turn to speak.
The show starts with the cast’s names and a little bit about them projected onto a big screen, one by one. We then see the beautiful large living space (with its lime green walls, fancy portraits, couches and furniture, and a Christmas tree in the far corner.) The plot is deliberately told from the disjointed point of view of Benjy (Susie Sokol and also Aaron Landsman), as written by Faulkner. Most times, Benjy is played by Susie Sokol, but at other points he is played by Aaron Landsman. Both characters wear the same red shirt with the white collar to make it very easy to see we’re watching Benjy, no matter who plays him. We feel for Benjy as he stays silent throughout the show and communicates through screams and wild gestures, covers his ears with his hands at loud sounds, and at times shakes violently when walking. We comprehend the hardships he faces in life, such as when he is teased by two school-age kids. The LCD version of the fireplace that Benjy stares at often is an amusing modern touch in this production.
Under the direction of John Collins, the cast gels into a coherent whole and truly inhabit their characters. In a particularly lively dance skit about a third of the way through the play, they move in perfect synchronization with each other. Throughout the show, we see characters screaming, slapping, sleeping, and performing everyday activities such as knitting and playing table games in the background. This is a spot-on slice-of-life play. There is a particularly hilarious scene involving birthday cake towards the end of the show that evoked hearty laughter from the audience. Since actors are constantly changing which character they are playing, part of the fun is watching who is playing who next (for example, Greig Sargeant dons an apron to play the maid Dilsey). And at times, there are two Dilseys on stage, one on the right side and one on the left (both wearing the same apron).
This is a fun stylized staging of William Faulkner’s novel and the time flies by. The story is told in a fragmented manner (switching back and forth between the years) as this is how it is remembered by Benjy, as stated in the show. Elevator Repair Service has a firm grasp on the novel and the cast truly looks like they’re having a blast acting it out. I look forward to seeing the next work they choose to stage.
The Sound and the Fury – Produced, created and performed by Elevator Repair Service, with text by William Faulkner.
WITH: Daphne Gaines, Rosie Goldensohn, Maggie Hoffman, Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, Kaneza Schaal, Pete Simpson, Susie Sokol, Lucy Taylor, Tory Vazquez and Ben Jalosa Williams.
Scenic design by David Zinn; Costume design by Colleen Werthmann; Lighting design by Mark Barton; Sound design by Matt Tierney; and additional costumes by Jacob A. Climer. Produced by Elevator Repair Service, John Collins, artistic director; Ariana Smart Truman, producing director; in partnership with The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director; the Lehoczky Escobar Family; and Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz; in association with Shawn M. Donnelley and David Gilbert. The Sound and the Fury is generously supported by the Howard Gilman Foundation and the Edward T. Cone foundation. Originally presented by New York Theatre Workshop with the support of Dartmouth College.
At The Public Theater’s Martinson Theater, (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org, through June 27. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes without intermission.