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BWW Review: THINGS AS THEY ARE examines poet Wallace Stevens in world premiere at Playwrights Local

"Things As They Are" examines poet Wallace Stevens @ Playwrights Local

Roy Berko

(Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

"Things As They Are" explores the life of Wallace Stevens, the American modern poet who was often called "aloof" and "uptight," has been classified as "meditative and philosophical," and as "a poet of ideas." Those ideas often confounded and confused his readers.

Stevens once wrote, "We approach reality with a piecemeal understanding, putting together parts of the world in an attempt to make it seem coherent. To make sense of the world is to construct a worldview through an active exercise of the imagination. This is no dry, philosophical activity, but a passionate engagement in finding order and meaning."

Stevens won the Pulitzer Prize of 1955 for his "Collected Poems."

Stevens, who lived from 1879-1955, is a perfect subject for a thoughtful drama based on his interpersonal relationship breakdowns, his mood swings, his marriage to Elsie Kachel who his social-conscious parents thought was "lower-class," his breaking off all contact with his family, Elsie's mental illness, an on-going crisis with his daughter, and his Robert Taft-like conservative political views.

His "Key West, Florida," arguments with Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway are legendary, as were the details of his troubled marriage, and short-termed friendships.

This was a man of great contradictions and insights, of varying vocations and avocations. During his life he was a successful poet, lawyer and insurance executive.

"Things as They Are" is a multimedia work written by David Todd. It features an impressive original music score performed and conceived by Ben Chasny

Though Stevens is interesting, and well deserves to be immortalized on stage, the play is much too long and the script, as conceived, seems overly-ambitious and not clearly focused.

Due to stimulus overloud, it's sometimes difficult to pay attention to the story line. The need for all of the music, electronic images, dancing and Commedia dell'Arte is questionable. Also up for examination is the weak presentational quality of some of the elements.

Kudos to director Anjanette Hall for attempting to get the pieces-parts all blended together.

Robert Hawkes nicely textures his performance as the Mature Wallace Stevens. His final acting scene was very effective. Laura Starnik and Tessa Hager create meaningful women as Elsie (wife) and Holly (daughter). The rest of the cast, Jason Markouc, Robert Branch, Kenzie Critzer, Jeanne Task, Marco Liguori and Liam Stilson are generally effective.

Ben Chasny and John Elliott create a strong musical presence. Unfortunately, the sound system is such that most of the off-stage reading of Steven's poetry was drowned out by the underscoring music.

T. Paul Lowry's projection design was well-conceived as was Jonathan Maag's lighting.

Capsule judgment: As a play in process, "Things As They Are" needs to be reexamined with an eye for sharpening and tightening the dialogue and ascertaining whether all the visual and audio stimuli are necessary to tell the tale. For those who like to see new works, to discuss and add in-put into the development process, Playwrights Local and this play offer that opportunity.

Playwrights Local, a development and production center, is dedicated to fostering diverse talents and presenting locally written theatrical works. "It strives to increase the impact of original theater on the community and to raise the profile of area playwrights both within Greater Cleveland and beyond."

"Things As They Are" is being performed at Reinberger Auditorium on Cleveland's near west side. There is a parking lot adjacent to the building. For information and ticket orders go to:

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From This Author Roy Berko