Winter – John Fosse and the words to say it. (Theatre Review)
Old 505 Theatre 7 – 22 June
If life is what happens when you’re making other plans, then surely communication is what happens when you say nothing, in the spaces between the patterned and circular repetitious lines we sprout that act as familiar signposts dedicated to the listeners response rather than the speakers feelings. Feelings are often too large, too unknown and too unexamined to be communicated to a significant other accurately, or even coherently. If Wittgenstein is right, and all forms of relating are a different set of language games, then in a world that struggles with knowing exactly what to say, speaking with a forthright confidence can be misinterpreted, even when it is longed for. If a man is angered that a woman he is hitting on in a bar “willfully misunderstands” and refuses to acknowledge what they are really negotiating for, then the same man has no right to “willfully misunderstand” her stony silence the day after he has arrived home late without warning. The claims of each human in a couple, that the other doesn’t know how to communicate have been the cry of disappointment in relationship for many decades of our times, and yet if each person communicated with clarity and lucidity the accuracy of their feelings as they have them, they would be met with equal refusal, either for being a shocking bore, cold-hearted, or a nag. What goes on between two people is convoluted, and integral to our communication about a relationship is what we don’t say, but express in other ways. The social order demands it of us, and this gets more and more true, the closer we get to “unpleasantries” in relationships, such as dissatisfaction, infidelity or perhaps the worst of all, boredom.
John Fosse’s Winter uses words as signs of something under the surface, communication being a thing that happens between the words. Perhaps the depth of human feeling is too irrational to be made concrete through words, or something we decide is irrational rather than face the logical implications. A man and a woman meet, and immediately she identifies herself as “your woman” to him, even as the man denies she is “his woman”. Why is she so adamant? Did they sleep together in a random encounter, or did she simply choose him from a crowd in the street? Are those details important? Somehow, this married man is now connected to this woman. At first she needs his help, and he loves to help her, and then she is more independent, but he is now hooked. Where they are doesn’t matter, what has actually happened between them doesn’t matter. Even the construction of their words as they appear in sentences, doesn’t matter. And yet everything is changing. As the man ignores the calls of his wife on the phone, we know that an exchange has taken place that has been accurately communicated between the man and woman we see on stage and the involved third, not present human, his wife. Through this so called lack of communication, the most difficult of all subjects has been perfectly conveyed. It is this ability to say everything with words that mean nothing that makes John Fosse’s play so interesting and so horribly reminiscent of our own lives.
The stage of the old 505 is white covered in snow that indicates a cold climate and the frosty difficulty of miscommunication. The man and the woman meet outside, and he invites her inside. There, through the couple constantly not saying what they mean, we see something enormous unfold. When they agree to meet outside of the room, it is an understanding that this encounter is turning into something, but what? What does he really need from her, does he even know? What does she really need from him, and has she already received it? We watch spellbound as the couple trip and spill over their words, cut each other off, and avoid saying, answering or asking the things that need to be said. The woman is played by the beautiful Susie Lindeman and the man is played by Berynn Schwerdt. They are moved around each other, their words and the room by Director Jonathan Wald whose presence is impossibly strong, because the narrative arc is conveyed in the nuances, not the words. Each gesture, each facial expression, each cross of the small space tells us what is happening in a fluid beauty that perfectly matches the inner storm that each actor conveys with delicacy and precision. Lindeman and Schwerdt are perfectly cast, with Lindeman using her body as a piece of art or a prop and Schwerdt shying away and sneaking toward her physical magnificence amid his own quiet tumult and resigned acquiescence. We watch as Wald reveals the profundity and complexity of relationship and the difficult terrain each of us entertain when we embark on one.
The difficulty of John Fosse’s play, Winter could have tumbled over itself into a mess in the wrong hands, but as it stands, it is one of those wonderful moments of theatre when the right play, finds the right director and evolves through the perfect cast. Highly recommended.