Friday, November 26, 2021

A Journal of the Plague Year (review)


Photo by Anne Mesa

Spoilers ahoy!

Daniel Dafoe's novel A Journal of the Plague Year came out in 1722 and takes place in 1664, the last time the Black Death ravaged the city of London.  Rightly viewed as a classic, it recounts a single fictional individual's experience of the disaster.  Quite topical, as I'm pretty sure most would agree. 

The radio play-style adaptation of this novel does a competent if not thrilling job of retelling the tale for a different era in a radically different medium.  Now, to be honest, the script seems to me full of traps.  Most of all, the narrator is not speaking to anyone specific, not even a hint as to whom these words are addressed.  I call this a trap because when it comes to acting (and indeed much of art in general) specificity is an enormous aid.  Thus the film of Amadeus imho worked so well in part because Salieri is not talking into the camera but speaking to a specific character who their own reaction to the words spoken, a fact Salieri knows and to which he responds.  Nothing like this here.  But--the essential story remains.

Yet it does not work.  I know  one or two members of the cast, and these are not incompetent performers by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet the production fundamentally does not work.  Honestly, again, it seems to come down to specifics.  When is this radio production taking place?  I have no idea, not least because the costumes are all over the place in terms of period, yet there is no foley artist.  The sound design was bizarre, with sudden blasts of inappropriate music and sound effects coming out of nowhere (arctic winds and wolf howls?  In London?  In 1664?).  The central character undergoes a crisis of faith, which is talked about rather than experienced.  A love story woven through the plot has not beginning, middle, or end--it just suddenly exists, with zero set up and zero follow through.  Meanwhile several players kept yelling their lines for some reason.  

I don't claim to know what went wrong.  But something did, and it ended up putting all the heavy lifting of imagining this story and its implications squarely on the audience, with very little help from the production.

This show can be seen at The Brickhouse Theatre, 10850 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood, CA. 91601 from November 13th through December 19th, 2021 Saturday nights at 8pm, and Sunday afternoon at 3pm

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