Sontag: Reborn

I really wish this type of theatre was my style. I continue to go back hoping I’ll change my mind, but I just don’t connect in the way I want. This does not mean I don’t respect the form and the effort to put something unique on stage; quite the opposite in fact. I love the work produced at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), even when it doesn’t resonate with me. I can always count on the productions there to be daring and different from everything else going up in the city. Don’t recognize the name NYTW? You have fallen in love with shows that began there like ONCE, Peter and the Starcatcher, and a little piece called RENT.

This particular production is a one-woman show based on the writings of Susan Sontag, adapted and performed by Moe Angelos. When the play begins, all we are able to make out on stage is an outline of a projection. As it comes into focus, we see a worn, tired woman smoking cigarette after cigarette. She begins to share words with us written years before, and together we observe her younger self (played by Moe live). As we witness this brilliant young woman mature, we simultaneously watch the older Sontag judge and try to reshape her past. The relationship between her and her younger self drives the majority of the storytelling. A note from the program: “A fascinating aspect of [Sontag’s] journals revealed that Sontag would re-read her early journals, often annotating passages and leaving margin notes. Sontag’s act of revisiting her former self served as a springboard for this production in which older and younger versions of Susan intermingle, creating a portrait of this prismatic and elegant mind.”

The show is technically impressive as the projection design is seamlessly intertwined with Moe’s action onstage. The timing is key and must be exact in order for her to engage with a video of herself. If she trips up on her words, things can quickly unravel as she only has a certain amount of time to get her lines in before her pre-recorded self speaks.

Moe is wonderful and I tried to be invested in Susan’s journey, but I wish there had been more of an arc within the piece. There wasn’t a shift in the relationship to her older self. I left wanting more of a revelation.

Nonetheless, it is clear from the first few lines that Sontag had a way with words. If my diary sounded the least bit like hers did at age 15…I would have started blogging a lot earlier, let me tell you. It’s effective to hear her words and notes on different topics as she grows up, attends school, discovers her sexuality, and moves through her romantic struggles. I appreciate that an attempt was made to take this beautiful material and try it out on stage. If you are a Sontag fan, definitely see it. It just didn’t strike a chord with me. Perhaps it will with you.

Sontag: Reborn
Based on the books by Susan Sontag, Adapted by Moe Angelos, Directed by Marianne Weems
New York Theatre Workshop
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Moe Angelos

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