Friday, February 11, 2011

A Review of Sequitur: David Foster Wallace

The only thing I knew about Sequitur: David Foster Wallace before actually attending the performance of it last night at New York's Symphony Space was that it was some type of musical interpretation of some of the writings of David Foster Wallace. So here, in brief, is what this performance was: the reading of two short stories written by DFW accompanied by live music and, in one case, a complementary visual component.

First up was Everything is Green, based on the short story of the same name that is collected in Girl with Curious Hair. This performance was fairly straightforward, featuring a recorded reading of, to the best of my knowledge, the complete text of the story supplemented by the piano and what I'm pretty sure was a flute. The program guide states that the composer of the piece, Randall Woolf, was fascinated by the "outsider English" in which the story is written and that the music was meant to complement this argot.

By far the longer and more interesting portion of the evening was the night's second performance, Tri-Stan, based on the short story Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko, collected in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Mary Nessinger was the highlight of this show, as she brilliantly sang selections from the source text, nicely matching her performance to the tone of the written word, cleverly coalescing instances of heightened drama with winking asides to the audience. The music had a fuller sound, as a full ten musicians huddled on the crowded stage along with Nessinger and the conductor, Paul Hostetter. A nice sized screen positioned above the performers' heads was used to project a range of images, from the text being read by Nessinger to publicity shots of the various real-life sitcoms mentioned in the story and, even, shadowed images of gyrating co-eds during certain relevant points.

I'll be honest: I'm fretfully unfit to judge the musical merits of each piece. My ear isn't refined enough to fairly do that. I much preferred the second presentation, though, precisely because of its non-strictly musical elements. For one, the difference between a live and a recorded reading of the source texts is just huge. The projected images helped me follow the action, as it was simply hard to hear, at times, the readings above the musical accompaniment. But, most important, Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko--a mythical retelling of the tragedy of TV executive working before and during the rise of cable--is perfectly suited for this type of musical performance. Where the music distracted at times from Everything is GreenTri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko, in all its mock-epic glory, was enhanced by the   live reading and the images and the music.

All in all, these are two creative interpretations of two perhaps lesser-known DFW stories. I feel that I better appreciate the stories after seeing them performed, which, for me, was much the point of the evening. Also, I learned that, apparently, I'll attend anything that has the name David Foster Wallace in the title.