Personally, I have preferred the Williamstown Theatre Festival Audio series of plays over Zoom productions. Likely, it is because audio encourages imagination, while Zoom shows only the faces of actors in boxes.
However, the newest release, “Wish You Were Here” shows all the negatives that comes from a piece written for the stage that isn’t altered for a new delivery system.
Strange as it may sound, for many who were raised with film and television, telling a story without visuals is a lost art.
Because theater is a collaborative art form playwrights depend on the actors to add depth to characters through physicality and voice inflections. Too, the work of other creatives like set and costume designers define space and mood.
Add to this, in an era of 90-minute dramas, as far as audiences are concerned exposition is an imposition.
Most novelists get this. They write using descriptive imagery and often write in the third person, which almost serves as narration. For this reason audio books work.
Playwrights, by nature, write sparsely, and iInformation is offered through dialogue. This can be problematic when heard only on audio.
A case in point is “Wish You Were Here,” which on audio is confusing. It’s extremely difficult to identify characters and their relationships to one another.
Initially I felt the problem might be my not paying enough attention to the monotone presentation. But listening a second time did not add much clarity.
I still had only the vaguest understanding of the characters, the situation and the relationships.
But, it’s not fair to put all the blame on the delivery system. Likely, I wouldn’t have cared for the play even in a live production, although I might have been clearer on the reasons for my passive feelings.
I am pretty certain my distain for the play has to do with the material in general. The characters are neither appealing nor interesting. There is very little drama and less conflict, And, overall, the writing lacks emotional depth.
The play is about a group of five female friends coming of age in Iran between the years 1978 and 1992. It was a period of oppression and suppression.
The women struggle with choices about marriage, careers and emigration. Indeed, over the 14-years covered in the play different women make life-changing decisions on all these issues and others.
However, though sometimes tenuous, the friendship between two of the women remains strong. That bond is between a proud Iranian, who stays and deeply loves her country, and a Jewish-Iranian who disappears and makes no further contact with the group.
It is assumed she left for life in another country – either Israel or the United States.
One woman is a gentle, private and almost innocent individual. The other is outspoken to the point of being crude.
Indeed, several conversations within the entire group concerning female and male private body parts borders on the point of being too much information and is potentially offending to some.
Though the two women are polar opposites and remain distanced throughout the play, it is this relationship that shows an enduring bond can exist between two people who seem to have little in common. A sexual longing could be read into their relationship, but if it exists, it is likely subliminal.
Though their emotional connection is undefined, it is both real and believable.
However, a major problem in the writing is the friendship with the other women seems so casual that every time we meet them there is an impression we are being introduced to a new character. There is no emotional closeness between any sets of the other women.
While I find fault with the writing, there is no single performance that defines or makes an individual character stand out. Everyone speaks in a whisper that results in them all sounding the same.
This is a director error, as is the slow pacing that makes a two-hour presentation without an intermission seem even longer.
This is the sixth production of the Williamstown Audio series and it is certainly the weakest. There’s one left and hopefully in the summer of 2021, we return to live theater.
“Wish You Were Here” and the other plays can be obtained by going to wtfestival.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.