Saturday, November 13, 2010

NY Times-Dostoevsky Comes To You Tube

Actor-playwright Bill Camp performs in his stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevky's timeless novella, "Notes From Underground", as the Baryshnikov Arts Center in NYC: Richard Termine/NY Times
(Story reported by Ben Brantley for the NY Times)

Guess who’s getting ready for his YouTube close-up?

Here is, if you think about it, the perfect marriage of a man and a medium. What other showcase works as well for someone who is both a shut-in and an exhibitionist? And so now a couple of theater artists from the 21st century have put a tiny video camera into the hands of one of the most toxic characters of 19th-century fiction, with the implicit instructions, “Underground Man, broadcast yourself!”

The Yale Repertory Theater’s production of “Notes From Underground,” adapted by Bill Camp and Robert Woodruff, is true to the outline, and often to the letter, of the bombshell of a book that inspired it: Dostoyevsky’s short, relentless novel of self-laceration from 1864. But this production, directed by Mr. Woodruff and starring Mr. Camp, never seems closer to its source’s spirit than in its use of an anachronism: the little camera with which the Underground Man records his sorry confessions.

Consider the show’s very first scene, in which Mr. Camp recites the litany of degradation that begins Dostoyevsky’s novel: “I am a sick man. I am a wicked man. I am an unattractive man.” As Mr. Camp says these words, the projected image of his smiling, snarling face looms large and scary on the back of the stage of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, where “Notes,” presented here by Theater for a New Audience, runs through Nov. 28.

You look at that outsize, contemptuous, phantasmal face, and you see a charismatic specter in control, speaking words that unsettle you. But shift your gaze to stage left, to Mr. Camp in the flesh, hunched over his trinket-sized camera, which sits on a decrepit desk in a derelict room. In three dimensions, in a broader context, Mr. Camp seems small and pathetic. It’s like seeing both faces of the Wizard of Oz at the same time: a gigantic, bodiless head and that insignificant little man behind the curtain. 

(Click here to read the full story on the NY Times website.)

No comments: