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Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Overcoat

I went to this ACT production of The Overcoat this afternoon.
Its like a ballet with desks, tables and beds. There are usually many of these objects on stage at a given time with anonymous movers spinning and mixing about the stage. There are also several levels of the action. Behind screens, elevated above the stage occur meetings, dancing, pining away, often not clearly related to the main action, but always related to the music. All the action is in sync with the music, and even the shuffling about often sounds like tap dancing adding punctuations.

I just read Gogol's short story here. Besides plot differences, there are also differences in tone and meaning. I had heard from somewhere that it was a story about a magic overcoat. This was somewhat true of the play, but not particularly true of the short story.
In the short story, overcoats are more personal, more about protection from the cold, showing the vulnerability against the harsh Russian elements. In the play, they had people moving in clumps holding onto a stick above them, emphasizing their interchangablility. Overcoats were metaphors for nameless workers in a bureaucracy.

Another interesting element to the play was how these movers of furniture always followed the main character around. It was as if they were his many selves. And they were unnoticed by other people who interacted with the main character.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It seemed like a very difficult piece to perform and it was amazing the amount of work that must have gone into it. If done badly, the whole thing would fall apart. I could imagine it as something that looks like a disaster until the final moment when all the finishing touches pull it together into a coherent sharp whole.

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