Forms combine rather than collide in Ark Theatre's "Babylon Revisited"
LENOX >> "Technology plays a big part in our lives, of course, and there's no reason to excise it from the real life of the stage," New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als writes in his review of a production by Elevator Repair Service in the weekly magazine's Oct. 12 issue, "but New York's avant-garde theater is so inundated with video, sound effects, deconstructed texts, and other gimmicks that it has become mired in its own self-consciousness."
There is nothing artistically self-consciousness or gimmicky about the technology in Ark Theatre Company's evocative, emotionally resonant stage adaptation of "Babylon Revisited," a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald written for the Feb. 21, 1931 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. In the hands of co-adaptors and directors Donald Marcus and Anthony Nikolchev and their resourceful team of creative digital artists — Ted Marcus, Alexa Green, Stephen Keech and Rudi Bach — technology by way of digital video with audio is much a narrative component as are Fitzgerald's words.
Holding closely to Fitzgerald's narrative and dialogue, Marcus and Nikolchev have turned Fitzgerald's jewel into a reflective memory story, narrated by Fitzgerald's central character. Charlie Wales (played by Nikolchev with style and grace), as he moves around an apartment in Prague, removing the dust covers from the furniture, arranging things for a possibility that may not materialize.
As Charlie goes over the progression of his visit to Paris, those events are replayed in digital images projected on the surfaces or undersides of various furniture pieces, the dust covers, on the rear wall — filmed in a kind of amber tint and often at sharp revealing angles that frame the other players in Charlie's story in aspects of light and shadow. Past is everywhere present as Charlie replays the sequence of encounters that has brought him to this place of refuge and hope.
It has not been an easy, or simple, journey. His life in disarray due to financial ruin, a failed marriage, the death of his wife, Helen (Jennifer Cavanaugh) and a tortuous descent into alcohol, Charlie has, years earlier, left his daughter, Honoria, with his brother- and sister-in-law, Lincoln and Marion Peters (played perfectly by Ryan Winkles and Doria Bramante), who have been made Honoria's legal guardians. Now, after rehab and reestablishing himself in Prague with a new and secure job, Charlie has returned to Paris after along and painful absence with the hope of persuading Lincoln and Marion to return Honoria to his custody. More than custody, Charlie is looking to make up for lost time and bad behavior; for forgiveness; for redemption.
It's a deal that sits very well with now-nine-year-old Honoria (an undeniably appealing Chloe Young). During an outing with her father, Honoria, out of the blue, blurts out, "Daddy, daddy. I want to live with you." At that moment, her face spreads across the rear wall of the apartment in larger-than-life close-up; her eyes, her face illumined by hope and innocence. The expression is heartrending in its startlingly direct simplicity.
While Lincoln is willing to entertain the notion, Marion is resistant. She blames Charlie for her sister Helen's despair and sense of humiliation and holds him responsible for the heart attack that caused Helen's death. As played by Bramante, Marion is coldly unforgiving, suspicious and mistrustful. A nasty twist of irony that intrudes at a key moment only confirms, in Marion's mind, her dim view of Charlie.
Nikolchev plays all this at a carefully measured pace that is as keen in its style and technique as it is in catching the deep emotional tangle that Charlie is holding in check, if only barely. His scenes with the video characters are vibrant and telling.
Without overplaying his hand, Nikolchev frames Fitzgerald's narrative with poignant loss and urgency; hope and uncertainty; expectation and disappointment.
Even with a twist of their own making at the end, Marcus and Nikolchev hold true not only to Fitzgerald's narrative voice but his emotional voice as well.
There are many moving parts here. In lesser hands that would be enough to force this piece to buckle under the weight of its pretensions. But in these masterly hands, two media forms that can be at odds with one another — video technology and live theater — come together seamlessly. The result is as haunting as it is memorable.
What: "Babylon Revisited." Adapted for the stage (from the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald) and directed by Donald Marcus and Anthony Nikolchev
With: Anthony Nikolchev, Francis Bernardi, Doria Bramante, Ryan Winkles, Chloe Young, Colin Young, Mia Masten, Jennifer Young, Patrick Toole, Kelly Galvin, Jennifer Cavanaugh, Stephen "Stitch" Keech, Mickey Mastrianni
Designers: Ted Marcus, director of cinematics; Alexa Green, cinematography and digital technology; Robyn Warfield, lighting; Stephen "Stitch" Keech, sound; Patrick Brennan, scenic consultant
Who: Ark Theatre Company
When: Through Oct. 25. Evenings — Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8. Matinees — Sunday at 2:30
Running time: 1 hour
Where: Bernstein Theatre Studio One, Elayne P. Bernstein Performing Arts Center, Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox
Tickets: $44.50; students — $24.50
How: (413) 637-3353; shakespeare.org; in person at Shakespeare & Company box office — 70 Kemble St.
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