BWW Review: The New Legacy of J.D. Salinger in Solnik's A LIFE IN THE RYE
If you've ever been given the chance to delve into the artistic mind, where creativity is at its peak, then you'll acknowledge that the reason for creation is not to satisfy an audience or keep up with the expectations of others. That which is created derives from the artist's soul, and from its birth becomes his unique perspective - a purpose that is molded by talent and dedication but fueled by psychological need. This need to create, to expel ideas as a means of self-expression... it is as though life depended on this catharsis, and perhaps in many ways it does.
Jerome David (J.D.) Salinger was one such person whose very essence thrived on the written word - whose need to write was entwined so intricately with his existence. Rendering him at the mercy of inspiration and most times leaving him trapped inside the confines of his own mind, Salinger's life is a fascinating story in its own right. Playwright Claude Solnik now harnesses the tragic beauty of this man's life in his new play A Life In the Rye, rebirthing a story that exquisitely brings together real life, literary creation, lost love and the effects of war - all within two captivating hours.
Presented by Two Tough Broads, directed by Joe John Battista and now in performances at the historic Theater for the New City, A Life In the Rye is truly an inspirational piece of theater that not only brings new life to J.D. Salinger's own story, but does so in a way that brings such dimensionality to a brilliant yet troubled life. One hundred years after the author's birth and following the opening of an exhibit at the New York Public Library to commemorate Salinger's life and work, Solnik's play is an unbiased and beautifully-crafted ode to this man that shows both the playwright's admiration and the truthful complexity of Salinger's life.
Encapsulating the life of such an iconic literary figure from all angles - from his early years to his involvement in World War II, and from the women he loved to the creation of one Holden Caulfield - leaves nothing left unsaid in this journey the audience takes with a man whose soul remained forever linked to what he created on paper. Through Battista's vision, Solnik gives the audience a wonderful understanding of an artist who found his purpose, his reason through writing, using reality as a sort of superficial cover story for the fictional existence he at all costs fought to sustain.
As Solnik states, "His life is a powerful story. He achieved celebrity at a very young age after returning from [the war], and he was never really able to return to an ordinary life."
Salinger's life was hardly ever ordinary, as an artist's life rarely is. His undying passion to be published (and later to write simply for the sake of doing so) fueled a certain way of thinking that brought him into the public eye as much as it did isolate him. A Life in the Rye begins with the young Salinger's need to be published in the New Yorker, followed by his acquaintance with Oona O'Neill (daughter of renowned author Eugene O'Neill). Considered his first love, Salinger treated Oona as both his lover and muse - the sole person who inspired him to write and be the person he wished to be. Obsessed with celebrity, Oona eventually married Charlie Chaplin while Salinger fought in World War II.
After returning, writing seemed to stem more from reality than it ever did. As he became more of an influence in the literary world, so did his need to write. Love interests came and went, children were born and still life's purpose remained to write. Ensconced in a post-war world where depression may have seeped into this man's life, Salinger built his own bunker within his home and did not find much reason to leave the world he found himself mentally (and now physically) trapped in.
Bringing in people who become the characters Salinger treated them as, entities always on stage to observe as much as they do perform, A Life In the Rye tells Salinger's story with such a beautiful linearity that brings the audience from beginning to end so seamlessly - even if the author's tale is a troubling one. Portraying Salinger as both his younger and adult selves on stage at once (and once again playing with the uncertainty of reality), both remain present throughout to venture through their lives full of comedy, hope, rejection and the need to rectify all that Holden is to the world...and some of the horrific things people have done in his name.
Salinger died only nine short years ago at the age of 91, but his life is of continuous interest to those who wish to learn just a little more about this man physically endured through so much, yet metaphysically lived a much different life - one of a much higher purpose. Solnik's play brings together Salinger's life full circle, giving such an extensive glimpse into the story of a man who truly lived through the words that passed through his typewriter. He portrays Salinger as a tragic figure debatably of his own doing, as he yearned to see his characters grow and take on greater life, creating existences that ironically overshadowed his own foiled personal attempts at finding any other purpose.
His experience with war is compared to the never-ending fight to be published by the New Yorker, and his first love is confused with the need for inspiration for the character of Sally in The Catcher in the Rye. A play which so cleverly frolics along the faint line which separates fiction from reality, the audience wonders if writing was an escape from life or responsible for the life he lived.
Either way you view it, Salinger's story is so intense and so intriguing, it captivates you from start to finish; transforming his life into a play was only natural. Solnik does an amazing job capturing the complexity of perspectives, views and conflict that doesn't confine Salinger to a specific image, but allows the audience to form its own opinion of a man who became a prisoner of his own mind, but saw his way to freedom with perfect and undying clarity.
From the set to the multimedia used throughout the performance, A Life In the Rye combines quite a few talents both on and off the stage. Kudos to a wonderful cast which includes Tom Martin, Janel Koloski, Willem Long, Chris Johnson, Harry Bainbridge, Thami Moscovici, Tony Del Bono, Olivia Osol, Annalisa Plumb, Alexandra Laliberte and Vilma Hodo. Credit must also be given to Allison Hohman (Production Stage Manager/Sound and Light Designer), Wendy Tonken (Costume Designer), Everett Clark (Costume Assistant), Vilma Hodo/John Constantine (Assistant Stage Managers) and all those not mentioned who made this production great.
A Life In The Rye began performances at Theater for the New City (located at 155 First Avenue) on November 7th, and will continue thru November 24th. Tickets are $18 general admission/$15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased by clicking here, by calling (212) 254.1109 or by visiting the box office. Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Dallas Phelps/Image Faucet