Greig Sargeant and Susie Sokol
in The Sound and the Fury
(© Joan Marcus)
Greig Sargeant and Susie Sokol
in The Sound and the Fury
(© Joan Marcus)
If you've never read William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, you probably won't get much out of Elevator Repair Service's The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928), now at New York Theatre Workshop. Even if you have read the novel, you may still be hard pressed to appreciate the experimental troupe's perplexing and only occasionally dynamic treatment of the text.

Faulkner's masterpiece chronicles the decline of the Compson family from four different perspectives. ERS utilizes just the first section, told from the viewpoint of the book's man-child "idiot," Benjy. This segment is confusing enough, as Benjy has no sense of time, so one incident reminds him of another and then another, with his narration flipping back and forth to various memories, spanning the years 1898-1928. ERS only adds to the muddle by having multiple cast members all playing the same character, frequently crossing race and gender lines, and only occasionally using a costume accessory (courtesy of Colleen Werthmann) to denote a change in persona.

To be fair, in the novel Benjy never identifies anyone by race (although the conversations he overhears eventually make this aspect clear) and several characters share the same name. There are two Quentins (one male, one female), two Jasons, and Benjy himself was originally named Maury, which is also his uncle's name.

It's possible that ERS was simply trying to mirror the novel's sense of disorder, but it's a questionable choice in a production filled with questionable choices. Switching out the actors for no discernible purpose makes it even harder to follow what's going on or to identify or track character progression. The company, under John Collins' haphazard direction, also literally speaks every word written by the author, including all the times he wrote out "he said" and "she said." There's no compelling reason for this, and it quickly becomes annoying.

Susie Sokol, as the primary Benjy, has expressive eyes that register the shock, amusement, and disappointment that Benjy experiences but is unable to verbally convey. Tory Vazquez (the only actor to wear a body microphone) makes a strong impression as Benjy's sister Caddy (whose story is at the heart of the novel), whereas Kate Scelsa tries too hard to convey the same character's childish petulance. Ben Williams, a white actor who usually plays the black servant Luster, is another strong presence; in addition, he and Mike Iveson lead the lively dance breaks which provide some variety to the staging and a quick pick-up in energy, but otherwise don't really service the story. The remaining cast members -- Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, and Kaneza Schaal -- portray a large number of roles with varying degrees of proficiency.

David Zinn's scenic design presents a rather detailed domestic interior, which is strange for a production that leaps so easily across time and space. Since there's a Christmas tree included, the design anchors the action to the December 1902 portions of the story, which are of lesser importance to the overall arc of the tale. A more non-representational set might have suited the play better. Still, Mark Barton's lighting does help to make the temporal and spatial shifts clear, and Matt Tierney's terrific sound design incorporates everything from bird noises to carnival music to the clopping of hooves that sounds suspiciously like a tap dance. During certain moments, the volume rises to near cacophonous levels, which clues the audience into Benjy's own emotional agitation.

Ultimately, however, this is simply not enough to overcome the inertia that sets in as the cast's too faithful adherence to reading out Faulkner's novel drones on.