The Bedroom, Fort Fringe, 610 L St. NW
Thursday, July 21, 6:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, 2 p.m.
They say: “Returning to the stage, Andrew White — whose past credits include performances with Source, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Le Neon Theatre — brings you a rare, stripped-down version of Tennyson’s epic poem on love, loss, loneliness and generosity of spirit. A moving solo tour-de-force!”
Matt’s Take: The program for Enoch Arden—-Andrew White’s one-man interpretation of theepic poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson—-describes the titular character as “a different kind of hero, remembered more for what he failed to do; a man who, on paper at least, achieved nothing at all.” But his sad and utterly human shortcomings are precisely what make Arden such a compelling figure, distinguishing him from the Light Brigades and Burdened White Men that otherwise populate the Victorian mythos.
A proud and diligent man, Arden nonetheless lacks the respect of his provincial English neighbors due to what they perceive as his superior bearing. Coupled with an aloofness that alienates his children, and Arden doesn’t go terribly missed when, after desperate circumstances force him into a seafaring job, he is shipwrecked and marooned for 10 years on a deserted island. His wife, Annie Lee, alone mourns his disappearance, but she finds solace in the sensitive Philip Ray, a childhood friend and Arden’s onetime rival for Annie’s heart. Together they gradually move on and start anew.
Arden, meanwhile, is incapable of anything except looking backward to the past. Years of torturous solitude and unhealthy idle thoughts take their toll. When rescue finally comes and he can return to his hometown, he does so as a battered, defeated man, remembered to no one save a gossipy innkeeper who becomes his confidant. (“My God has bowed me down to what I am,” he tells her in his twilight hours.) Not quite the triumphant homecoming of Odysseus.
White, barefoot and plainly dressed, brings a steady energy to Tennyson’s verse with little help from anything more than a basic audio track and artful lighting schemes by Elliot Lanes. From memory White narrates the poem in full, adding no lines of his own, but this is hardly a straight recitation. He explores every inch of the sparse set, stepping in and out of the tale’s characters, miming their actions and mimicking their speech patterns without resorting to Olde English caricature. Arden’s despair feels real; the longings of Annie and Philip are tantalizingly palpable.
There’s a lot of purple Victorian text to get across, and decent chunks of plot exposition tend to wash over the listener. But White deserves commendation for nailing emotional peaks that elevate the work beyond the trappings of any era. An exceptionally quiet performance, sounds from outside the theater do occasionally seep in — some adding to the play’s overall effect (idle voices, crying children) and some distracting from it (car alarms). But White proves that a passionate dedication to source material, not to mention a sharp memory, can bring a performance to life no matter how barebones the venue.
See it if: You pine for the days of 12th-grade English when you realized how the classics can make for great entertainment.
Skip it if: You couldn’t stand listening to the inverted syntax of poetry written before 1900.