She Talks to Beethoven Is a Fever Dream of a Play

Hao Bai

She Talks to Beethoven at JACK is not one work of art but two — Adrienne Kennedy’s short 1989 play, not professionally produced until now, and Intersection 2014, a new installation by Abigail DeVille based on Richard Serra’s Intersection II. The show takes place within and around the installation, with spectators wandering throughout, and the pairing brings a three-dimensional sensuousness to Kennedy’s fever dream of a play.

DeVille’s installation replaces Serra’s smooth surfaces with splintered, porous walls composed of garbage bags, plastic tarps, recycled plywood, and other debris. The set produces the eery which-end-is-up sensation of Serra’s work within a partially exploded hut, evoking both timelessness and the frightening newness of post-independence Ghana in 1961, the story’s setting.

The drama follows Suzanne Alexander (Natalie Paul) as she sits at home, listening to radio reports about the disappearance of her husband, David (Paul-Robert Pryce). She distracts herself by reading Ludwig van Beethoven’s letters until the composer himself arrives, ghostlike and in David’s shape, to meditate with her on loss, terror, and illness.

The specifics of the characters’ exchanges are hard to follow under Charlotte Brathwaite’s direction. The actors intone into glowing microphones as lights continually flicker, crafting less a drama than a theatrical poem that we enter, bodily, for a spell. While there, we encounter Kennedy’s richly textured, emotionally explosive imagination, leaving us transported though also, like Alexander herself, a bit disoriented.

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