The inspired Suzanne Vega opens as herself: an artist drawn to Carson McCullers’s life and work. After explaining her fascination with writer McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Square Root of Wonderful) directly to the audience in an opening monologue, we witness Vega’s transformation into McCullers, successfully yet simply done with a wig, the removal of lipstick, and a soft southern twang.
As McCullers, Vega charmingly portrays a blindly egocentric, sardonic, manically naïve and yet lovable woman. Alternating almost equally between spoken monologue and song, McCullers addresses the audience about love, including all of her bizarre relationships and infatuations, as well as the life of an artist struggling with alcoholism and emotional disturbance. Since the material is given to us straight from the woman herself, the more desperate and disturbing anecdotes, such as attempted suicides, deep depression, and her stroke, take on a light and sarcastic quality, which produce a more celebratory than tragic mood. Vega is charismatic and magnetic; though there is no discernable plot or conflict, the piece is wholly engaging throughout. It is a poetic and musical reflection on McCullers’ ambitions, failures, and successes.
The music, to be expected from Suzanne Vega (hit album Solitude Standing) and Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), is excellent. It varies in style and tone with a delightful pop feel. Pianist Joe Iconis and guitarist Andy Stack are invaluable, not only technically, but also as personalities onstage. Iconis and Vega have great chemistry in moments when monologue interruptions evolve into playful banter. One exceptionally memorable and catchy song is We of Me, about the passionate three-way love Carson shared with her husband Reeves and prominent musician David Diamond. During this song, Vega, Iconis, and Stack on the ukulele, crowd around the piano and absolutely glow.
This show is all-around enjoyable, chock full of melodic new songs and insightful looks into McCullers’ life. Vega’s distinct and lovely voice is matched by her acting—she is believable and endearing. Lively and moving, this piece is really an homage to any artist.
Carson McCullers Talks About Love; Written by Suzanne Vega; Directed by Kay Matschullat; Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; 224 Waverly Place, NYC; (212) 868-4444; www.smarttix.com