BWW Review: FACES IN THE CROWD, Gate Theatre
A nameless woman starts writing a novel in Mexico City. She is regularly interrupted by her family as she tells about a younger version of herself living wildly in New York and little known poets in need of translation. Her reality interweaves with memories from different, distant lives as she transcends narratives through exceptionally vivid storytelling. Valeria Luiselli's 2011 novel Faces in the Crowd (originally translated by Christina McSweeney) is directed and adapted by The Gate Theatre's artistic director Ellen McDougall in a quiet but intense production.
Mexican actress Jimena Larraguivel is devastating as the brilliant writer and translator who's constantly disturbed by her two children while her architect husband is "too busy" working on a model. As her partner, Neil D'Souza is a loving man who's always very eager to participate in her retelling until he loses interest or aches to get back to his activity. They are bound by double standards. Their crying baby is invariably her responsibility and The Boy (Santiago Huertas Ruiz on press night) appeals to her "mum guilt"; McDougall emphasises this aspect of with light but heartbreaking directorial touches that grow as seeds of the climax.
Her artistic inclination and existence have become one with her position as a mother, which is seemingly starting to run too small for The Woman. Her story is an escape and, even when she is completely engrossed in what might be the only act she does for herself in her hectic day, she is ridden with guilt. McDougall employs Luiselli's written imagery with flare and the thin thrust stage with long tables designed by Bethany Wells (who also curates costumes and gives The Musician - Anoushka Lucas - an enviable pair of boots) becomes scattered with objects from the multiple worlds the audience experience.
While truth and fiction keep switching places and The Woman blurs the lines between her life in Mexico and the United States, Faces in the Crowd analyses the concepts of authorship and identity relating them to how one's choices leave indelible marks on their lives. McDougall's show is rooted in the adaptation of Luiselli's work but leans on a visual delivery.
She works with Jessica Hung Han Yun to create a lighting design that accompanies the characters and almost defines their presence on the stage. Sudden blackouts ("Fussy fuses") heighten the reception of the tale and softer lights establish specific ambiences that transport the action through time and space. Faces in the Crowd slowly develops into the subdued fever dream of a mother who's striving to break through the confines of her role.
Image courtesy of Ellie Kurttz