Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Notes From the Underground
La Jolla Playhouse

Also see Bill's reviews of Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound

Bill Camp
Notes from Underground, the latest collaboration from the Yale Rep's Robert Woodruff and Bill Camp, takes a 19th century literary work that was ahead of its time and tries to transform it into a theatre piece that is ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the transformation only serves to magnify the problems with reading a text from another time through a contemporary lens.

Written by Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1864, Notes serves as an exploration of loneliness and the lunacy that results in deliberate withdrawal from society. While perhaps not as dangerous as Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as the Unabomber, Dostoevsky's The Man shares many of Mr. Kaczynski's qualities, including producing stream-of-consciousness writing that documents a descent into madness (Dostoevsky was by far the better writer, however). This writing, while morbidly fascinating in the short run, ultimately leads to disaster.

In Mr. Woodruff (adaptor and director) and Mr. Camp's (actor) version, The Man lives a disconnected Facebook/YouTube existence, documenting his every thought, his every move, and putting it all on display in the vain hope that former friends and associates will be impressed. It becomes increasing clear that the opposite impression will be elicited.

The production has been carefully thought out, and Mr. Camp's performance is chock-full of delicious small details. The setting, a hermit's white room with snow on the floor, strewn with litter but containing a fair amount of technology, including computers and video cameras, provides a stark and deliberately puzzling environment for the equally chilly text. Video close-ups of the stage action serve up dizzying images of an increasingly warped mind. Carefully placed sound and music effects (by Michaël Attias and Merritt Janson) provide emphasis or counterpoint to the language, and both of the on-stage artists (Ms. Merritt in particular) portray characters in The Man's narrative.

Mr. Camp gives demanding performance as The Man. It is a deliberately off-putting performance, however, and though the production runs 95 minutes without intermission, it is a difficult performance to sit through. A stop because of a technology glitch at the performance I attended prompted quite a few walk-outs, despite pleas from the staff to stay at one's seat.

Self-consciousness, especially in print, was new and daring in Dostoevsky's time. In contemporary times, however, it may well be seen as narcissistic and boring.

Notes from Underground continues performances through October 17 at the La Jolla Playhouse's Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla. Tickets are $31 - $66 and are available at the Playhouse Box Office (858) 550-1010 or online at The La Jolla Playhouse Box Office.

La Jolla Playhouse presents the Yale Repertory Theatre production of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, adapted by Robert Woodruff and Bill Camp, based on a translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Directed by Robert Woodruff, with David Zinn, scenic designer; Moria Sine Clinton, costume designer; Mark Barton, lighting designer; Michaël Attias, composer/sound designer; and Peter Nigrini, projection designer.

With Bill Camp as the Man, Merritt Janson as Liza/Musician and Michaël Attias as Apollon/Musician.

Please note: this production contains nudity, violence and strong language.

Photo: Joan Marcus

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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