Collaborative Artists Ensemble officially opened its world premiere of Don Nigro’s Waste Land at Studio/Stage, last weekend. A tragicomedy, set in the modernist era, that lays bare the tumultuous love between T.S. Eliot and his first wife and muse, Vivienne, it is both a diverting and disturbing look at Eliot and the creation of one of his most famous poems, that would be his masterpiece.
While a standalone work, Waste Land is part of Nigro’s series of plays about the great Moderns, that also includes Anima Mundi, Lucia Mad, Lost Generation and What Shall I Do For Pretty Girls?
Eliot’s circle of notable friends—Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein and Bertrand Russell—also populate this play with amusing and opinionated dialog, in what seems like a never-ending series of mini-mise-en-scène that highlight Vivienne’s various relationships with Eliot’s friends, who according to Vivienne, think her dim and are subsequently cruel in their couched wit. In truth, every one of these literary geniuses display an equal amount of self-doubt for as much wisdom and reveal Vivienne as a true creative and the missing heart of Eliot by all accounts, but suffocating in the shadows of all their respective immobile intellectualism. Exceptionally though, Stein has the kindest words in the storytelling that illuminate Vivienne and Eliot’s love affair, even if her sentiments solve nothing.
What is hell on earth? According to Vivienne, being ignored. Being as close to a person as you can get and knowing it will never be close enough to penetrate the exterior of cold hard steel. Eliot is an enigma that eventually drives her mad.
As a language play, Waste Land is verbose and needs cutting so that we can actually hear all of the absolutely succulent ideas deeply embedded in the text. There are so many gems, it’s hard to track or remember them all.
The actors, however, marvelously handle the strenuous task of delivering clarity in every poignant and absurd moment.
Waste Land is a sumptuous, 360-view of apathy and moral relativism, not merely presenting a pessimistic picture of culture in disarray, but that of the intellectuals themselves, divested from the passion of Vivienne who is living within the group and yet totally on the margins.
A profound work, although overly written. (It’s long!) Collaborative Artists Ensemble takes the plunge with fervor.
Directed by Steve Jarrard
Written by Don Nigro
Produced by Collaborative Artists Ensemble
Starring: Rich Brunner, Deborah Cresswell, Bartholomeus De Meirsman, Georgan George, John Ogden, JJ Smith and Meg Wallace.