New Works Initiative: The Agee/Evans Project-April 2011-L. Howard Fox Theatre
The New Works Initiative is exactly that: a new work in the process. The Agee/Evans Project was not a complete piece when it was performed in Fox. For example, some actors still had to use their scripts. Before the show began, one of the theater professors announced that this was a new form of theater we have not experienced before. It certainly was.
Unfortunately, I didn't like it as much.
Nothing against the plot or the playwright, for I am a playwright as well so I can relate to what one goes through when writing plays, but this play leads something to be desired for me. The premise is that a writer, James Agee, and his photographer friend, Walker Evans, are doing a story about this sharecropper family who lives in this house in rural Alabama and the two men study them from their porch, which is where the entire play takes place. As the play goes on we can see that Agee becomes more and more passionate about the story than Evans. However, this isn't the only thread in the play. We meet members of the family, who each have their own issues and storylines, and then there is also a chorus over to the other side of the stage that provides the sound effects with either their voices or certain objects, such as rocks.
Though like all Peak Performances it was very well done, I didn't quite understand it much. It is one of those odd forms of theater that isn't a chronological story but rather poetry scattered all around. What I didn't like the most though is when the story with Agee and Evans, the family running around, and the chorus combine at once. I get how this is supposed to be a theatrical tactic to make the piece more intricate and artsy, but after a while it gets to be too much at once happening on the stage, making it hard to focus on what is going on.
Now that I have said all this I might as well admit to the fact that the day I saw this play wasn't necessarily one of my best. It was the final day of "Hell Week," which means a bunch of papers due all in one week at the end of the semester, so I was stressed and tired. And, I was also dealing with a female-related issue, so I wasn't feeling well. Maybe if I wasn't enduring these circumstances my enjoyment of the play wouldn't have been as tainted. Then again, it is also a piece in the works, so it's reasonable that it's not going to be perfect just yet.
Now for the Awkward Sexual Moments of The Agee/Evans Project.
Evans and Agee Discuss the Possibility of Agee Leaving His Wife: That's it. In one little itty bitty scene, Agee and Evans discuss the possibility of Agee leaving his wife, possibly for another woman. This idea is never revisited or, from what I see, have anything to do with the plot, so I feel like it was pointless to include in the first place. Now, it would make more sense if Agee decided to leave his wife for one of the family members they were studying, but I cannot remember if this is the case or not. I don't think it is the case only because I feel like something like that would stand out well enough for one to remember.
Now here is another episode of “Bonus Random Moments That I Really Need to Talk About.”
The Girl with the Blanket: Like The Grapes of Wrath, The Agee/Evans Project also has a bonus random moment about a girl with a blanket. As Agee becomes so engrossed with this family, all of a sudden the members start shouting that "Something is coming," to which Agee responds, "Can I stop it?" I begin to wonder what exactly "it" is. First I think literally, perhaps it is a tornado of sorts, for they all seem to look out into the distance. Then Agee grabs one of the girls and holds her, and she eventually goes lifeless in his arms, so then I think "it" metaphorically refers to death. This explanation would make more sense in this play because there seems to be a lot of symbolism. One thing about this play is that, to me, nothing is straight and to the point.
So the audience is lead to believe that this girl had died. She kneels and crouches over in the middle of the stage and they place a blanket over her, hiding her from view, thus suggesting a burial. The family members each walk back slowly to their post (for throughout the play when they aren't in a scene they sit in chairs located towards the back of the stage, their backs facing the audience) and both Agee and Evans sit on either side of the girl in silence and look at her. One of the girls in the chorus then has a solo harmonizing session as this all happens.
The problem I have with this scene is that sure it is interesting when it first begins, but then it begins to drag on when it isn't necessary. The girl does not stop harmonizing when the family members finally all return to their seats and Agee and Evans continue to look on. It just gets boring after a while. To me, the scene is around ten to fifteen minutes long, but then again maybe my mood this day made it seem longer. It could be shorter than what it is. Every time you expect the scene to finish, it continues for no reason. Nothing is happening because everything is still so I begin to wonder when they are going to move on to the next part of the play.
The only explanation for this longer than usual scene is that they are trying to make it sink in to the audience that the characters are in a mourning period, which is actually understandable if the girl ACTUALLY DIED!
After this scene finally comes to a close, the girl exits her house onto her porch and begins to talk to Agee, as if nothing happened! This really irritates me because it left me with so many unanswered questions! Did she come back from the dead? Is this a flashback? Did she even die at all? If none of this is true, then what is the point of that lengthy scene? What point are they trying to make then making that one girl a focus for such a long time only to have nothing result from it?
Previously: dis connect
Next...and final... Albert Herring (Brace yourselves, people. This one's an opera :P)