From short stories to gin-soaked success, drama from Ray Carver's tales
By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times
The late Raymond Carver's short stories are so intimate, and provide so few physical details about the world their characters inhabit, that they seem to take place more in one's thoughts than in a whole-cloth, fictional cosmos.
So on the occasion that one or more of Carver's spare tales is adapted for a dramatic medium, it can be startling to see how another writer, a director and actors add necessary elements to provide cogency to that world.
Of course, you can say that of any adaptation. But with Carver's emphasis on his characters' own private, half-understood impressions of uncomfortable and bewildering experiences, an experiment such as new Seattle company The Community Theatre's new triptych of one-acts, "Carver's Pieces," created by adaptor-director John Abramson, can surprise with its specificity of behavior, dialogue nuances and location.
Happily, "Carver's Pieces" is also very good, a worthy, theatrical plunge into the Northwest author's vision of the despair, confusion and hopes of individuals seeking to armor themselves against choices they've made even as they anticipate more and different changes on the horizon.
"Carver's Pieces" is based on three stories with no connection other than rocky relationships, unspoken dread, arguments about the mystery of extreme behavior, and their characters' penchant for numbing away anxiety with one or another diversion.
The opening drama, "What's In Alaska?" concerns Jack (Jim Hamerlinck) and Mary (Lisa Every). The couple's frayed romance is further strained when they get together with Carl (Randal Foss) and Helen (Tammy Taecker) over a hookah and a lot of subtext regarding disappointments, repressed anger and betrayal.
With all four characters either giddy or subdued from whatever they're smoking, their awareness or willful ignorance of collective and individual pain is played out solely on the actors' faces, in subtle tones woven through chatter, and in small bursts of feeling quickly hidden again.
"Carver's Pieces" by Raymond Carver, adapted by John Abramson,
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 23, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center,
4408 Delridge Way S.W., Seattle; $12-$15 (800-838-3006 orwww.brownpapertickets.com;
Carver's haunting "Fat" is equally well represented, the intriguing story of a waitress (Emily Chisholm) who slowly develops empathy for a very obese but courtly diner (William Hamer in a fat suit) who tends to speak in third-person plural. The two leads are spot-on, and of the three narratives in "Carver's Pieces," "Fat" seems to have required the least augmentation on its way to being fully realized.
"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" is the most challenging and rewarding production, in which two couples get drunk and either grapple with or avoid an analysis of love at its most obscure, violent and poignant.
The loss of Carver's first-person, subjective narrator is inevitable and may throw the story's balance off a bit. But Abramson and the excellent cast (Christopher Berns, Lori Stein, Jewell Forster, Heather Poulsen) really capture the descent into gin-fueled awareness Carver intended.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com
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