Ben Williams (Photo courtesy of Ariana Smart)
Theatre and Speech faculty member Karen Henderson recently saw an innovative off-Broadway production of The Sound and the Fury, which she described as “a challenging, creatively original, artistically masterful production featuring ensemble acting of extremely high caliber.” This intriguing adaptation of William Faulkner’s Nobel prize-winning novel features UTC alumnus Ben Williams (UTC ’03), a former theatre and humanities double major and UTC University Honors student. He studied at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic 99-00 and at UTC, he earned his BA Magna Cum Laude.
The Sound and the Fury is an Elevator Repair Service (ERS) production. Williams said ERS develops a show over 18-24 months, in this case through a series of residencies at NYTW and at Dartmouth College and several work-in-progress showings.
“Although the structure of this show ultimately became the first part of The Sound and the Fury, we used dozens of other sources to inform what we do, and all those choices are created by the individual interests and obsessions of the ensemble. John Collins, the director, of course has to pass judgment on whatever it is, but the work is created, really, by finding ways to let all of us pursue whatever interests us. So in a way, for this show, we got to play the roles that we each wanted to play — and then John kept shaping those casting decisions from there,” Williams said.
Drawing on dance techniques from documentaries, an Alan Lomax video about Appalachian dancers, and even Youtube videos about fainting goats, Williams created several characters he enjoyed playing.
Ben Williams performs in The Sound and the Fury
(Photo courtesy of Ariana Smart)
“In a more traditional sense of how theater is made, I am cast at times as Luster (a 14 year-old black kid who tends to Benjy in the present), Jason III (the Compson pater familias, an older white man), and TP (an 18 year-old black farmhand),” Williams said. “It’s really fun. The roles shift back and forth according to the way time jumps around within the book, some of trying on accents, some not, some imitating Yul Brynner via the 1959 movie version, some imitating immediate family members.”
Henderson gives kudos to ERS for daring to dramatize the show.
“The audience either heard or read (words projected onto the set’s wall) every single word of Part 1,” Henderson said. “Rather than being ‘star vehicles’ that so many of the plays on Broadway are, this is 100% a team effort.”
Henderson said when the actors change roles, become the narrator/reader, read words straight from the novel, change accents, genders, costume pieces, it all happens without a hitch. This challenging work is very appealing to Williams.
“ERS makes theater, it could be said, by finding things that weren’t necessarily designed to be on stage and creating ways for them to exist on the stage — and celebrating the incongruities and problems that such an encounter creates. The result of this, when dealt with in a truly honest way, is usually something very exciting,” Williams said.
The show is going on tour in Los Angeles, Lisbon, Vienna, and Amsterdam.
Saying “this is a side of New York theatre that too many people overlook,” Henderson noticed the show drew two established actors to its viewing the night she attended.
“Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl, Match Point, 30 Rock) and Peter Strauss (TV’s Rich Man, Poor Man, Masad) were in the audience. Ben was a strong member of the ensemble. To see one of the Theatre department’s graduates in that production was a fulfillment of all of the artistic integrity our department tries to inspire in our students,” Henderson said.
Ben Williams, pictured second from left in plaid shirt, in cast of The Sound the the Fury (Photo courtesy of Ariana Smart)