Collaborative Artists Ensemble presents “Waste Land,” running through May 6th at Studio/Stage, 520 N Western Ave, Los Angeles.
What a treat to spend the evening with some of the most iconic writers who have ever lived…even if many of them are now considered a little controversial.
“Waste Land” is a play based on the life of TS Elliot or, more particularly, his marriage to his first wife Vivian, which ended rather badly for her, dying alone in a mental asylum, while for him it produced his most celebrated poem, “The Waste Land.”
Elliot was notoriously stuffy, at least publicly, and his wife Vivian was the opposite, outgoing, fun and perhaps a little highly strung. But in the early 20th century the “hysterical” women were en vogue and Vivian was constantly at the mercy of one doctor or another.
Meg Wallace, JJ Smith, John Ogden, Bartholomeus De Meirsman
Meanwhile, Elliot was busy traveling, writing and hanging out with Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Bertrand Russell. Enough to make anyone a bit doolally in my opinion.
This play really is like an audience with the very best of the modernist literary movement. All of them slightly odd and terrible self-obsessed, but then brilliance almost always comes with a boatload of psychosis and paranoia. Of course, Elliot’s best friend Ezra Pound went a little over the top in Italy with Mussolini and ended up in a US asylum himself…a cushy alternative to prison at least. It’s a wonder anyone got anything done at all!
This production, so strewn with literary giants and their steely cleverness, really hinges on how well the actors possess their roles. It lives and dies by it.
I found their interpretations quite riveting. It would be easy enough to caricature them, to rely on obvious imitations and affectations. But these sublime actors do far more than that. They flesh them out with quirk and character, passion and life and it works brilliantly.
Meg Wallace, JJ Smith
It’s beautifully written, of course, it would be astonishing if Don Nigro had been able to do anything less, given his love for this period of literary history. But I do think he rather outdid himself with “Waste Land.” He cunningly mirrors Elliot’s various themes from his poem, while also jumping around through time and place, just as the poem does. It’s a fascinating and compelling way to pry our way into Elliot’s mind, while Vivian tries to do the same, with little success and growing frustrations and pain. So we see him through her eyes really, a cold, remote man with little time for her needs. It’s very sad and utterly engrossing and I highly recommend it.
“Waste Land” runs from April 6th through May 6th.
Studio/Stage, 520 N Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Written by Don Nigro
Directed by Steve Jarrard
Rich Brunner, Deborah Cresswell, Bartholomeus De Meirsman, Georgan George, John Ogden, JJ Smith and Meg Wallace.