Theater Preview: ANNIVERSARY! STORIES BY TOBIAS WOLFF AND GEORGE SAUNDERS (Word for Word)

by Tony Frankel on August 8, 2018

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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WORD FOR WORD’S PERSONAL VICTORY LAP
MAY BE THE BEST DEEP KISS YOU’VE EVER HAD

San Francisco’s Word for Word has been transforming classic and contemporary fiction into amazing theatrical experiences by performing short stories in their entirety, preserving the authors’ language and honoring their literary intent. Now, Word for Word celebrates its 25th season with a thrilling new production: Anniversary! Stories by Tobias Wolff and George Saunders. These are two of the company’s favorite authors, and the selected works for the evening are Wolff’s “Deep Kiss” directed by Joel Mullennix and Saunders’ “Victory Lap” directed by Delia MacDougall. Previews begin tonight with the opening set for this Saturday, August 11. Performing at the Z Space Main Stage in San Francisco’s Mission/SOMA district through Sept. 2, the two are linked by their themes of adolescence and youthful longing.

“Deep Kiss” is one of Wolff’s best works. This is Joe Reed’s story of a first love which nearly breaks him, and resonates into his middle age. The first paragraph is a brilliant example of Wolff’s ability to interject backstory while accounting for transitions in time:

“When Joe Reed was a boy of fifteen, his craziness over a girl became such a burden to his family, and such a curiosity to the small town where they lived, that his mother threatened to pack him off to his married sister in San Diego. But before this could happen Joe’s father died and his mother collected a large sum from Northwestern Mutual, sold the family pharmacy, and moved both Joe and herself to California. Thirty years passed. In that time he heard nothing from the girl, Mary Claude Moore, but now and then word of her reached him through people back in Dunston. She dropped out of high school in her senior year, had a baby, got married, divorced, then remarried a few years later. That second marriage was the last thing Joe know about Mary Claude until he learned of her death.”

Saunders, who studied under Wolff in the graduate program in creative writing at Syracuse University, gives us “Victory Lap,” which concerns two awkward teens and one alarming bully. Humor develops into great menace, with a soul-saving ending. Enhanced by Saunders great sense of voice and tone, he does an amazing job of capturing what it feels like to be on that precipice between childhood and adulthood, and to be faced with a situation in which you might feel paralyzed to act. Notice the clipped sentences that increase pace and tension, and the use of not just the two expected points of view, but a third that you won’t expect.

This is one of the most exciting theater companies that I have ever encountered. And this is an absolute do-not-miss experience.

SPECIAL EVENTS

August 15 at 7: An Evening with Tobias Wolff and George Saunders is a post- performance event with Tobias Wolff and George Saunders in conversation with Z Space Playwright-in-Residence Peter Nachtrieb. Tickets are $125.

August 27 at 7: What a Long Great Road It’s Been is a celebratory evening (without performances). The entire Word for Word Charter Group presents milestones from the company’s 25-year history, illuminated by a retrospective slide show. Mix and mingle at a party afterward. Tickets are $25.

photo of Saunders by Damon Winter/The New York Times

Anniversary! Stories by Tobias Wolff and George Saunders:
“Deep Kiss” and “Victory Lap”
Word for Word’s 25th Anniversary Season
Z Space Main Stage | 450 Florida St.
Wed & Thurs at 7 | Fri & Sat at 8 | Sun at 3
ends on September 2, 2018
for tickets, call 415-626-0453 or visit Z Space

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