I love Word for Word, the theatre company that puts short stories on stage without changing a word. Last Monday at Z Space in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of Colm Tóibín’s Two Women in their Off the Page reading series.
I have to say that for a reading, the director did some fairly elaborate blocking. Actors changed clothing as well, mostly to cue when a character switch occurred, as when Joel Mullennix donned a scarf to transform from Luke, the protagonist’s love interest, to a movie director. I was impressed with how smoothly the reading went, considering the multiple scene changes that involved moving chairs and boxes each time.
The story itself is from the collection The Empty Family. Tóibín is an Irish writer who began as a journalist and has written several books, including novels and a play.
Two Women explores a woman’s past when she visits her homeland of Ireland, having been away for decades. The piece is rich in metaphors—Frances is a set designer who attempts to stage her life in the same way she stages the movies she works on.
The title is intriguing because the play centers around one woman, Frances, and depicts her relationships with three other women while allowing the audience flashback glimpses of her former life with Luke, the love of her life.
After the performance, an audience member asked the cast and director outright who the two women of the title referred to. Everyone who answered had a different idea, but I agreed with Susan, who sat next to me and posited that the two women both referred to Frances—her being one person when she was with Luke and another one altogether when she wasn’t.
It surprises me that Word for Word chose to tackle this particular story since it required six actors, most of whom covered multiple roles. In addition, scenes take place in a cab, in a hotel room, on a movie set, at a pub, and a few other places, which does not make for easy staging. But Word for Word doesn’t go for easy. This is a company whose mission is “to tell great stories,” convenience be damned.
I hope that as difficult as it may be to stage, this story gets a full production that Tóibín would be proud to see.