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Uneasy Writer

Anita Hollander and Lia Aprile
photo: Rachelle Roberts

Still Life, a 2001 video by visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, depicts a basket of lush fruits subsiding into gray muck. In just under four minutes, a triumph of time-lapse photography, peaches, cherries, and pears swell, shrivel, and recede beneath blanketing mold. Who knew that watching fruit decay could be so terrifying, so heartbreaking? But it takes a remarkable vision (and possibly a very nifty camera) to wring the lyrical from the mundane. Playwright Gary Winter fails in this attempt, though nobly, with At Said, a play about a woman typing—an activity no less inclined to spectatorship than grass growing or paint drying.

In a tenement apartment, mother Sybil (Lia Aprile) and daughter Darra (Anita Hollander) pass their days in aimless disagreement until their neighbor Will (Vedant Gokhale) presents Sybil with a typewriter he's rescued from a dumpster. As Darra, Will, and other characters look on, Sybil covers reams of paper with disjointed recollections of the youth she passed under a repressive regime—a hodgepodge of soldiers, trucks, guns, and schoolfellows buried in the forest. There's plenty of drama in Sibyl's memories, but little in watching her hunt and peck the words to them. Winter and his characters onstage feel rather differently. They labor under the belief—what a writer's fantasy!—that each stroke of pen or click of key bespeaks terrible danger and import. Darra fears the writing will hurt her mother and others too. "The writing goes through the walls," Darra complains, "it's disturbing the whole building." Mr. Carlos, the building's super, recalls, "I used to write things down. They knew. Nobody was in the room, but somehow they knew. They came and fucked me up."

Winter's language is spare—often lovely—but it requires a livelier subject. Darra's lassitude, Will's heroin-assisted stasis, and Sibyl's typing prove too slim a support. At Said is the fourth production of 13P, a playwrights' collective dedicated to offering full production of its members' plays and appointing the playwright artistic director of his or her own work. It's an admirable mission, even a necessary one, but At Said could have benefited from a process in which Winter's script might suffer cuts and conversions. Director Tim Farrell nicely negotiates the scene changes and the theatrical space, but he can't keep the pace from softening or the end from coming later than anticipated or wished for—though it's nothing to throw rotten fruit at.


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