The Days Are as Grass -Age and beauty in language. (Theatre review)
The Days Are as Grass
RPW & Stories About Humans with The Depot Theatre
October 19 – 29
Photo credits: Clare Hawley
It seems a persistent characteristic of being human is a fundamental inability to describe our physical experience. As one has more and more experiences we start to see that what we had been told to expect is unimaginable prior to coupling it with experience. Childbirth and parenthood spring to mind immediately. No matter how many people tell you what it is like to bring a child into and up in the world, we always feel a small sense of “no one told me it would be like this.” The same goes for sex, becoming an independent adult, and growing old. What is it to describe being old, asks Carol Hall in The Days Are as Grass? In eight vignettes, she seeks to use language to provide more than just consensus for those in their twilight years. Carol Hall uses the plays to point out ways that bring us face to face with the possibility of undergoing an experience with language, specifically in this case, the complicated experience of what it is to know yourself as old.
These small conversations range from the practical experience of writing a will through the meandering journey of reminiscing that results in a depiction of the deterioration of the body. Interestingly, Hall suggests at the end of the play that it might be silence that holds the experience of being rather than speaking a thing as if talking eliminates rather than reveals the access we must experience. The implication is, as Heidegger would suggest, to undergo an experience with language, then, means to let ourselves be properly concerned by the claim of language by entering and submitting to it. Cut against the common problem of only hearing what we already understand. For Carol Hall, old age is a mystery, a beautiful combination of reflection, philosophical knowledge and meditation that facilitate a transition away from the body that is deteriorating as if it were a snake’s skin being shed. “I feel like a rusty hinge,” says one character as he and his wife face their fear of what might be around the corner in their deteriorating bodies. “They say they’re older and wiser” says a son dealing with the dreadful revelation that his parents might get back together in their old age.
It’s interesting that the only time we notice language is when it fails us. Then we leave unspoken that what we have in mind and, subconsciously, undergo experiences in which language itself has distantly touched us with its essential being. The ephemeral and elusive truth of language seems perfectly fitting for the question of what it is to be old, because the older you become, the fewer people you have with which to share the knowledge of what it is to be old. For Carol Hall the elderly are poets. They come to the point where they are compelled, in their own way (a kind of poetry) to put into language the experience they undergo with language. Much of this is missing for those of us who do not have the experience, but Hall’s challenge is to have us hear properly, that which we do not understand.
This is an unassuming production of The Days Are as Grass currently showing at The Depot Theatre, but it’s homage to the text with beautiful performances packs the punch in the plays intentions. Director Jane Edwina Seymour draws the right performances from the seven-strong cast that carry the audience through the myriad of emotions Carol Hall intends.
Some of the eight short shows are stronger than others. Of note are the final three plays that each examine encroaching death while equally looking at the failures of language to properly capture the point we are trying to get across. The sets are kept light and easy while, except for the final play, movement is also minimalist. Despite the simplicity of the set design and the straightforward approach by Jane Edwina Seymour, The Days Are as Grass moves forward effortlessly and leaves the audience hanging on every word and surprised to find the ninety-minute running time move swiftly by.
This is lovely theatre, a show to take a much-loved older person to. There is scope for great conversation in many of the points raised by the play, but even more, it would be lovely to chat with an older friend after seeing the play performed.
The Days Are as Grass is one of the joyful, pleasant surprises of the 2016 theatre season. Don’t miss it.