This past weekend Wallabout Oyster Theatre, an off-shoot of the artist collective Rufus Corporation, produced their second show in the Kent Avenue home-studio loft of Rufus member Simon Lee. On the menu, in addition to actual oysters (though not from Wallabout, hopefully), were monologues from novels by William Golding (Lord of the Flies), William Faulkner (The Reivers) and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian).
Subtle lighting manipulations (by Janet Clancy) on the brownish orange-green painted backdrop were enough to transport the audience from its cement surroundings on a chilly February evening to the variously sandy, dusty and rocky terrain narrated by the three performers.
Each literary monologue came off to varying degrees of success. High school drama student Fergus Baumann did an impressive hat-switching job juggling the parts of Ralph, Piggy and Jack while speeding through the entire plot of Lord of the Flies. Though his was the only piece of the three that didn’t involve a passage of storytelling by a character in a story, he managed the potentially confusing act by assuming distinct poses, gestures and facial expressions for each character: squinting and wrinkly-nosed for Piggy, coy and condescending for Jack, mild-mannered and tentative for Ralph. The effect of condensing all three into one actor re-invigorates Golding’s very tired text, an all-too frequent inclusion on high school English syllabi, the implication being that rather than embodying distinct extremes of human behavior and bias, shades of Ralph, Jack and Piggy exist simultaneously in everyone. This notion was highlight, perhaps accidentally, in swift passages when it became difficult to distinguish between Baumann’s Jack and Ralph.
The second and shortest monologue, from Faulkner’s final novel and performed by McDavid Moore, was less successful. This had partly to do with its brevity, the story recounted barely gaining traction before ending abruptly, but also because of the less assured performer. Both Moore and Baumann chose not to do accents, which served the former well (British accents, especially the differently inflected class-coded accents Flies calls for, would likely be very distracting and not add much to such a performance), though a hint of a Mississippi drawl might have done a great deal for the Reivers monologue.
The strongest performance, though, belonged to Wood, who emerged in his underwear, face caked with dirt(like makeup), going full-cowboy with the accent as he performed a story told by the expriest Tobin about his first encounter with Blood Meridian‘s iconic character, Judge Holden. By far the most transporting of the three monologues—a result of the combined force of McCarthy’s storytelling and Wood’s absorption in it—by the end the entire audience of about 40 who attended the third and final free performance on Sunday night was right there, perched on the scraggly ridge of an old volcano, waiting for improvised gunpowder to dry in the beating sun.
After these tales of extreme conditions, depravity and scarcity, the crowd of mostly artists and performers was understandably eager to tuck into oysters, wine and cheese during the post-show reception. And, after such a vastly improved follow-up to Wallabout Oyster Theatre’s already very solid first production, one can’t help but be optimistic about the South Williamsburg company’s next show.