Mirrors of Chartres Street: Faulkner in New Orleans/New Orleans in Faulkner
nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 9, 2008
When a writer is clearly passionate about his subject, we become passionate right along with him. The solo play in one act, Mirrors of Chartres Street: Faulkner in New Orleans/New Orleans in Faulkner, is not only a piece that depicts the young, unknown future Nobel Prize-winning author living in 1925 New Orleans and the local experiences that inspired his writing, but one whose creation itself shows the devotion and commitment of the play's author to his beloved city.
Mirrors of Chartres Street: Faulkner in New Orleans/New Orleans in Faulkner is everything a FringeNYC play should be. Simply and thoughtfully designed, this adaptation succeeds in transporting us to a timeless New Orleans on the wings of Faulkner's lilting and evocative voice. The author is Rob Florence, who also brought us the engaging Fleeing Katrina, an adaptation of various accounts of Hurricane Katrina victims, which ran during the 2006 Midtown International Theatre Festival.
Adapted for the stage from Faulkner's collection of articles entitled Mirrors of Chartres Street that appeared in The Times-Picayune and Double Dealer, Florence's Mirrors succeeds as a theatre piece on many levels. Ryan Reinike, who delivers a solid performance as the young Faulkner, also—with just a tilt of his fedora this way or that and slight adjustments in posture—embodies a bevy of characters who become the inspiration for Faulkner's articles. Interwoven amongst these character portraits, Reinike as Faulkner also delivers the actual finished stories, as well as Faulkner's letters to his mother back in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Perry Martin directs with a steady hand, and Eleanor Moore's gentle lighting design eases us in and out of the monologues, stories, and correspondence-reciting, facilitating a sense of cohesion and progression.
One area where the piece is lacking, though, is that it doesn't possess a point of view or interpretation with regard to Faulkner himself. The structure of the piece is sound, but because Reinike portrays Faulkner as genteel and relatively detached all the way through without any evidence of life's effects on his psyche and how his year in New Orleans changes him, this Faulkner feels more like idealized fiction than an authentic person, which isn't very interesting after a while. Some hints of Faulkner's drinking problem are alluded to, as well as his great admiration for Sherwood Anderson and his writing, but neither of these important elements are shown to have any significant effect on his inner life. As a result, this Faulkner feels a bit too placid and even-keeled—a Faulkner that his publisher would want you to see, all charm and humor, no demons in sight.
Though there is some more crafting that should be considered here as the piece grows, it is a delight to see a work about a worthy subject that has as much together as Mirrors does at this stage in its development. The play already possesses the key ingredients to make it an enjoyable experience even now, but like a jambalaya that tastes good, yet is a bit too tame, Mirrors just needs to add a bit more seasoning to give it the required Creole kick.