A friend cautioned me not to "give away the story" as I left the Elevator Repair Service's "Fondly, Collette Richland" on Thursday night. Jolly joker. The work, written by Sibyl Kempson and shaped by ERS, is intentionally a diffuse dreamscape that throws out images and ideas with little narrative structure.
The performances this weekend at the Walker are previews, giving Kempson and ERS artistic director John Collins a first chance to see how this experimental work looks on its feet, in front of an audience. As such, it is not being reviewed by critics.
So, in that spirit, here are a few observations from one audience member. The piece is about two hours and 15 minutes without intermission, likely intended to serve the piece's unity as a stretch of fantasy. There are two distinct settings -- a modest kitchen in a small northeastern U.S. town and a resort hotel in the Alps. Characters mundane and bizarre inhabit these worlds, each with his or her own agenda. Kempson has written types and details rather than a story.
It's not wrong to be baffled by the work. It's also not wrong to appreciate the inventive staging and the dense rush of ideas and physical juxtapositions. Kempson borrowed a quote from Russian formalist Victor Shkolvsky in her program notes. It says in part: "Browse through our works, look for a point of view, and if you can find it, then there is your unity. I was unable to find it."
I would love to be a fly on the wall as Collins, Kempson and the rest of the ERS crew do their post mortem on the Walker performances. Those should be interesting conversations. Collins has said they'll let "Collette" rest for some time -- gestate -- as they move on to other projects. But Collins said the plan is to get a New York opening.
"Fondly, Collette Richland" continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Walker.