The late cultural icon Susan Sontag's formative years are the subject of The Builders Association's fascinating Sontag: Reborn, at the Public Theater.
Adapted and performed by Moe Angelos from the first volume of Sontag's journals -- as edited by the writer's son, David Rieff -- the piece covers Sontag's development from a 14-year-old budding intellectual up through the publication of her first novel at the age of 30. Along the way, she tells stories of her first lesbian experience, her unhappy marriage, her years spent studying abroad, her tempestuous relationship with playwright Maria Irene Fornes, and more.
While the show is technically a solo, Austin Switser's exemplary video design allows Angelos to occasionally interact with a pre-recorded "older" version of Sontag (also portrayed by Angelos), who chimes in with comments, or even reads excerpts from Sontag's later works, like Against Interpretation.
The mixture of live camera work with existing footage gives the production a striking visual look. Dan Dobson's sound design utilizes music to underscore the emotions of particular moments within the piece, and director Marianne Weems should be credited for making the entire piece come together as well as it does.
But ultimately its Angelos' funny and magnetic performance and Sontag's own words that resonate most strongly. They combine to create a portrait of a woman full of passion, intelligence, and above all, a fierce desire to invent herself.
-- Dan Bacalzo