A Woolf at the Door
A small and lovely furniture-design show by Annie Coggan, Love Seats for Virginia Woolf, has given rise to a documentary play of the same title by theater scribe Randy Gener. Performances take place at Fort Greene’s A: D/B Project Space, where the stylish daytime exhibit turns into a living, breathing nighttime set. Coggan has imaginatively wrought four enamel-coated steel seating arrangements, which are meant to give expression to the bohemian relationships of Woolf and her Bloomsbury clique. The models can be seen as gestural forays into the conflicted themes of love and work, friendship and rivalry, solitude and companionship, which preoccupied Woolf, both professionally and personally, until her suicide at the start of the Second World War.
Gener has constructed a series of conversations—drawn from Woolf’s diaries, letters, and glimmering fiction, as well as critical biographies—tailor-made for each love seat. After a prologue in which a semi-recumbent Leonard Woolf writes a letter granting Edward Albee permission to use his late wife’s name, we eavesdrop on Virginia intimately chatting with Lytton Strachey, her sister Vanessa Bell, her epistolary paramour Vita Sackville-West, and finally her husband just before the final breakdown. Though the text could do with a bit of editing (Coggan’s sculpted minimalism deserves a less wordy treatment), Gener has staged the piece with a subtle grace that complements the art objects’ sedentary ingenuity.
Mia Katigbak portrays the brilliant, mentally ill author with obvious reverence, while Stephen Nisbet quick-changes into her various famous interlocutors. Unlike Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave’s stunning impersonation of Vita and Virginia a few seasons back, Love Seats is less a theatrical embodiment than a meditative homage. But never has Virginia’s room of one’s own been so suggestively furnished. —Charles McNulty
The Next Wrong Man
In Melanie Marnich’s Quake (14th Street Y), Lucy “moves with the curve of the earth” in the pursuit of the love of her life. In this Bridget Jones and Ally McBeal era, Lucy’s story could be one more repetition of the same, but Marnich manages to invest her piece with a fresh, impressionistic twist. By playing with language in a way reminiscent of the surrealists and by equating love with energy, she sheds new light on a universal theme. In Quake, love obeys the laws of gravity, and the philosophy of life can be read in a manual of astrophysics.
Throughout the play, Lucy (Dannah Chaifetz) frantically embarks on absurd relationships with various obviously wrong men, from the sports maniac who keeps mentioning his “last ex-girlfriend,” to the commitment freak, to the brutal mechanic, to the brilliant intellectual who cheats on her but repeats monotonously, “It was only once. No, I don’t love her, it was a mistake. I never saw her before. I’ll never do it again.” During her quest Lucy is distracted by her obsessive admiration for a Lara Croft-like femme fatale, who is determined to kill all her lovers because she “cannot take what love is really like compared to the love she wants.”
The scenes, invariably announced by electronic music, follow each other in snapshot fashion. Like Quake’s actors who play multiple roles, Lucy is deprived of the features of a full-fledged character. She’s something of a chameleon and incarnates several types at once. Marnich’s play, directed by Amy Feinberg, functions as a parody of the quest for the extraordinary. Not unlike the surrealists, she deconstructs the ordinary and the typical in order to find beauty. —Ann Vaessen
Psyche and Eros
Sheila Callaghan’s Scab (Greenwich Street Theater) isn’t for real much of the time—but that’s when it’s at its best, bursting out of its mundane story with darkly funny forays into the surreal.
Scab tells of coming of age, coming out, grief and healing, the trials of love, convention versus freedom, intellectual pretension, and a grab-bag of literary concerns. We meet Anima when her grad school roommate Christa does. Anima lies on the floor curled in a fetal position; her father has just died, her boyfriend has dumped her. The two chicks—Christa runs mousy, Anima blares loud—become fast friends. Uh-oh. Anima’s old flame falls for Christa, and so does Anima. Both secrets will out.
This tired tale emerges in hiccups of histrionic monologue and awkward dialogue. Callaghan shows more talent in the inventive fantasy sequences. In the funniest, Christa’s poseur classmates shuffle in as joined-at-the-hipsters in black, puffing away and mouthing snide in unison. They could be a New Yorker cartoon. In another gambit, Anima’s mom and brother appear on video in ’50s sitcom style, chortling about how Dad used to beat up his daughter. Later a live Mom (wickedly droll Anne Carney) presides over Anima’s psyche in robe and halo as Mary Androgyne, served by vaudeville dancers in top hats and fishnets.
Director Hayley Finn mounts a stylish production with snappy pacing, clever musical accents and design. But the surreal flashes don’t connect to or enrich the earthbound plot. And the actors can’t save the show either. Some have flair, but Shannon Burkett, shrieking, strutting, or collapsing, cannot rescue Anima. Callaghan has tried to weave together just too many threads, ending up not with an intricate web, but a tangle. —Francine Russo
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 5, 2002