Adaption of renowned literary works is always a challenge for theater professionals. Novels in particular pose a time based hurdle since much of a novel’s space is creating an environment in which its characters interact. Dialogue is often limited with deeply revealing emotional monologues being the center of a character’s inner life and motivations.
Ildiko Nemeth’s vision for Clarice Lispector’s poetically translated first novel is a combination of language, original mysteriously psychological film projections by Jessica Sofia Mitrani, sound and music, all together filling the New Stage Theater Company’s intimate off-off Broadway theater in Harlem.
Actress Sarah Lemp breathes youthful life and spiritual longing into Joana, Lispector’s narcissistic antagonist. Her inner life is revealed, through monologues, of anger and existential quest for some kind of personal perfection. Nothing is good enough for Joana. Not even as a young child does Joana get any satisfaction. She forces her single parent father to question Joana’s sanity and future. Eventually she is sent away to a boarding school.
Living with an aunt in Rio Joana is an isolated and introspective young woman who longs to break out of something as yet unknown. Her aunt drives her to the brink with scathing attacks on her individuality and anti-social behaviors.
Throughout the play Joana moves through a surreal video backdrop of austere natural beauty. On the stark white stage are a bed, a table, a few chairs. I am reminded of Beckett’s settings for his most starkly anti-social plays. Director Nemeth moves Joana into ill-fated loves and her doomed marriage. Joana almost sings the anxious poetry of her female inner life, a life of cold but clear impassion quickly dissolving into monstrous apathy.
Markus Hirnigel plays Otavio, Joana’s first husband, as a busy bureaucrat and cheating partner. Hirnigel gives Otavio an overpowering male life that confuses Joana. The couple can’t talk directly. Instead they provoke and jab leading to explosions of negative emotions. It’s with Hirnagel that Ms Lemp lets us see Joana’s vulnerability. She both loves and doesn’t love him. She can’t and can deal with his cheating. She is torn and yet somehow made more whole by him.
Written when Lispector was 26 this first novel shook the Brazilian literary world. It has since been translated into dozens of languages. This translation is sheer magic exposing both the hard and soft tissues of a woman’s life. The audience was rapt in the subtleties of acting bringing personal truths onstage.
“Near To The Wild Heart” is a prime example of how difficult literature succeeds on stage. Powerful and meaningful, showing us the heart and mind of well rounded characters. It’s a must see for seekers like me of refined drama.