I went alone to the world premier of “Unpublished Dialogues.” Perhaps that was most fitting.
Virginia Woolf was, after all, alone when she died. And “Unpublished Dialogues” was based on the last day of her life.
The theater-dance piece premiered last month in a dark and cavernous old ice house that seemed a fitting space for conducting an artistic exploration of Woolf’s mind on the day of her death.
The building sits on a tipsy street that ends at railroad tracks. Inside, just as the name implies, the structure is as cool as a refrigerated case, even on a warm sunny afternoon in early fall.
The rough brick and concrete walls of the main space stretch up and up. On that day, they ended in rows of multi-colored lights strung above a stage set to resemble Woolf’s writing Lodge at Monk’s House in Sussex.
I sat in the front row, just inches from the low stage, ready to absorb the wordless drama about a woman who chose her words so well.
The stage was simply set, but each item was placed with special meaning. The wooden coat rack at stage left held the dark coat that Virginia would wear on her last walk. The small table at stage right held a framed photo of a couple that I imagined as Leonard and Virginia on their wedding day.
In the center was her famous writing table. I imagined that the notebook sitting there contained her draft of Between the Acts. When I noticed a walking stick leaning nearby, I wondered if Woolf had actually used one when she left for the River Ouse.
The performance itself froze me in my seat. I was mesmerized by its darkness and drama and lightness and euphoria all at once.
Two Virginias — the adult and her younger self — teased each other lightly and played cat and mouse with a pen. Two half-brothers struggled with the terrified young Virginia, who was consoled by her adult self.
Her lover Vita Sackville-West let down her long, flowing hair and romanced Virginia. Her nephew Julian Bell played at being a soldier then marched off to war as a real one. And Leonard Woolf was either there in the background or by her side, the steady companion.
When Virginia’s companions left her, and she pulled her coat off the rack and slipped it on, I felt new empathy for this brilliant woman who felt forced to take that final walk. I did not want her to go alone. (more…)
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