Written by Brian Thorstenson
Directed by Erin Mei-Ling Stuart
Wakefield, based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story of the same name, closes the season for 6NewPlays, whose six members each produce a play. Its Brian Thorstenson’s turn, and his offering is a mesmerizing sequel, starting at the point where Hawthorne ends his tale of Henry Wakefield who returns to his wife after a 20-year absence. Thorstenson had free artistic rein over his production; script, casting, acting and producing. The result is a hypnotic, dark tale of abandonment, loss, the passage of time and self-purpose.
I’ve decided to use Hawthorne’s own words to describe this odd story which he starts as a mention in a newspaper of a husband who leaves his wife, nothing to unusual albeit for the length of time which makes the story so pronounced. Hawthorne premises his fleshed-out tale thus: “Howbeit, this, though far from the most aggravated, is perhaps the strangest instance, on record, of marital delinquency; and, moreover, as remarkable a freak as may be found in the whole list of human oddities.”
Hawthorne goes onto to presume what kind of man Wakefield might be and why he would walk out one night on his wife of ten years, settle into an apartment a few streets away, alter his appearance and proceed to stalk his wife for the next 20 years. Hawthorne gives us a possible motive- “Wakefield sifts his ideas, however, as minutely as he may, and finds himself curious to know the progress of matters at home – how his exemplary wife will endure her widowhood, of a week; and, briefly, how the little sphere of creatures and circumstances, in which he was a central object, will be affected by his removal. A morbid vanity, therefore, lies nearest the bottom of the affair.”
Thorstenson’s Wakefield open with a reunion, Henry, soaking wet from a sudden downpour uses the keys he’s kept to enter his old home and confront his wife Sofia. Its an awkward moment indeed, Sofia’s shock and Henry’s feeble attempts to explain his absence. Brian’s Henry is reserved, quiet and soft. He talks of the march of time, how people’s faces change and even his home felt somehow alien. He needs a retreat from the world, a self-imposed limbo perhaps to frighten his wife.
Anne Darragh (Barbeque at SF Playhouse, August: Osage County at MTC) plays Sofia, a blend of disappointment, sadness and hurt. She’s had hm declared dead, taken control of her life and moved on. She cannot comprehend Henry’s actions; living so close, watching her shadows through the windows of their home and keeping his keys.
There are some moments of either fantasy or past remembrances; the pair perform a dance as an elegant, British couple (perhaps their early courtship) and engage in a vaudeville-like schtick about quantifying the 20-year gap in years, months, days, minutes and seconds. Sofia shoots Henry dead several times, a faux cumulation of her anger.
Director Erin Mei-Ling Stuart’s touch is all over this production – a dancer who’s choreographed over 30 pieces. The two actors perform a mirror dance and move in choreographed pantomime to the accompaniment of a live clarinet player (original score by Bruce Belton and Tina Traboulsi).
The short show, at a mere 55 minutes, has a dream-like feel that keeps you thinking. Hawthorne’s story ends with Henry’s return, and Thorstenson’s ends, I think, with the couple’s reunification. It’s a strange story indeed. Hawthorne sums it up this way: “Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.” If this is a cautionary tale not to step to far outside the mainstream, message received.
Wakefield continues through October 14th, 2018 at Studio210, 3435 Cesar Chavez Street, No. 210, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.6newplays.com/
Photo by Kegan Marling