Do you ever find things in your life well timed? Almost like the universe had coordinated for you to see or hear a thing at a specific moment? I’ve had a time like that lately – our most recent show at the Shakespeare Theatre was The Select, an adaptation of “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. When the schedule of shows for this season was announced last year, the Boy was thrilled – he LOVES Hemingway, and The Sun Also Rises is one of his favorite. He immediately started lauding the choice, and talking about the bullfights and getting “tight” in the middle of the day. Having never read Hemingway, I was “meh” about the whole thing. He pulled out his copy of tSAR, and I held on to it for a few moments, saying I would get to it at some point, and then put it down on the coffee table where it proceeded to live for about 6 months.
But then I got lucky. My book club decided to read “The Paris Wife”, which is about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, and takes place during the time in which tSAR was written. So I got to see what the basis of the novel was, and all of the goings on that happened that made the book what it was. Obviously reading a historical fiction account that covers only part of the time involved in the story doesn’t “count” for having read the book, but it made going in to the show that much more accessible because I knew what would be going on, and what to look for.
So – the show. The set was gorgeous – a wood paneled interior of a bar that would play every location. It’s the kind of bar that you would be intrigued to visit if you found it, with a narrow shelf near the ceiling lined with empty bottles. Cozy, bare bones, but inviting. Turning the tables or chairs, and changing the light or sound effects allowed the cast to make us believe that with a simple motion we were no longer in a bar, but maybe in a taxi, or outdoors. It was magnificent.
Speaking of the sound (or rather – “listening to the sound?” Nope. Too cheesy – moving on!), it was amazing. It took me 2/3 of the play to realize that all the sound effects that we were hearing throughout the performance were managed by the actors on one of two computerized soundboards that sat on set. A character could stand behind the bar, and reach down to make it look like they were getting a bottle of something, or washing, and a sound would happen for an action across the room, with the audience none-the-wiser. Towards the end of the show, those sound booths were exposed in a way that felt very raw and intimate.
The acting was pretty good. Our main character Jake was just neutral enough of a person where we the audience felt invited to look through his eyes at the madness around him in which he also participates. The Boy and I were most impressed by the performances by Stephanie Hayes as the Lady Brett Ashley, object of all male desire in this world, Robert Johanson as the exuberant Bill Gorton, who is along for the ride, and perhaps most impressively, Susie Sokol as matador Pedro Romero. Sokol appears briefly in the first half of the show as a background character, but when she steps into the role of machismo personified, it is a sight to behold. Sokol is transformed, and you can’t help but look at her whenever she strides purposefully across the stage (especially when decked out in full matador regalia. The final bullfighting scene is perhaps one of the best things in the entire show – so creative with its staging and sound effects, and you are enraptured.
The show is long. The novel was condensed significantly, but it’s still a play based on a novel that takes its time with description. Much of that is taken care of with sound and scenery, but I found myself getting antsy in the last 45 minutes of the 3 hours and 15 minute show. It did not help that I had a big event the next day, and so was anxious to get home, but I can’t be the only one who felt that despite the exciting action and near constant noise of the second act, it’s easy to be ready for this adventure to be over – no matter how much fun it was.
Details: The Select (The Sun Also Rises), adapted by Elevator Repair Service. Shakespeare Theatre‘s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St NW, Washington, DC. Through April 2.