The Drifts Live: the novel onstage
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
August 10, 2013
A scene from The Drifts Live: the novel onstage
In 2006, author/performer and Arkansas native Thom Vernon left the U.S. for Canada so he could remain with his Zimbabwean partner. However, I can’t detect bitterness towards his native land in his work. His adaptation of his 2010 novel The Drifts surely is worthy of attention for its portrayal of unfulfilled dreams in Arkansas. The inclusion of queer voices makes this story even more compelling. I’m reading the e-book available from Coach House Books right now.
Thom Vernon’s solo performance switches between four voices. The first is Julie, whose children have grown up and escaped to Hollywood. She is certain that she will get her husband Charlie’s interest again, only she hadn’t planned on having another child at age 46. Charlie has been distracted lately, first by his best friend, Wilson. That liaison is ending, but it seems something is always taking Charlie away from Julie. The cover of the novel has a picture of a poutingly cute calf, so let your imagination go in that direction. A cold, snowy winter surrounds the town.
Wilson is a strong, self-assured, woman who Julie regards as fleshy and feminine and everyone else in the community thinks of as acting like a man. She works in the Singer sewing machine factory, has her own small herd of cattle, and is the least sad of the characters. She cares for Dol, a male-to-female transgender person who can’t afford the final procedures to transition fully to her new gender. Dol loses his first wife and children when they discover he is working as a cross-dressing performer. As Dol puts it, “She took up Jesus, you took up Mencken.” Dol quite poignantly conveys universal feelings of someone who has already started to move on but is stuck. Dol is looking into less conventional ways to achieve her transition.
The Southern character of this piece is quite compelling. They have plenty of time to be honest. Charlie opines, whether or not it is the “right” trend of thought, that someone should stand up for the baby he wants to have (which his wife does not) and blames welfare recipients for never learning how to take care of their children. I liked the way the characters express themselves. All of them had such unique viewpoints and styles; in the novel, Charlie speaks without any punctuation. But this is not a review of the novel, so I do have to say that in the scant sixty-minute stage adaptation I sometimes lost track of who was speaking. Wilson and Dol were the standout characters for me, and the monologues were captivating, but when two characters were speaking I sometimes couldn’t keep up with the many ideas and moods. There is a lot happening with these characters, a lot of it on the inside, and so I’d best describe the stage play as ambitious and perhaps in need of expansion.