It Is Solved by Walking
Reviewed by Emily Deming
It is Solved by Walking – a play by Catherine Banks – is at The LSPU Hall This Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, or Sunday at 2pm.
This is a play about rebuilding (a life) and breaking down (a poem)…
More specifically, it’s about the painful first step of emotional demolition necessary to begin rebuilding. Here a woman must look back over a period of almost two decades and determine what part of her early hopes for herself she should fight to regain, what was always false and therefore not worth attempting again, and how to grieve for lost things that she chose to lose.
Whether Margaret (played by Ruth Lawrence) is up to this midlife re-direction, is not obvious. In her twenties, while working on her terminally incomplete dissertation on Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, she had thought she would become a famous poet, a successful academic, and remain wildly in love with her then lover (now dead ex-husband). Nothing in her story shows us any reason to weigh this assumed potential more heavily than that of any young person who has loved a poem, enjoyed the first months of a sexual romance, or begun an ambitious project (in other words, every young person). Except, maybe, that all these years later, she is still struggling with that same poem.
…and poetry itself as both wrecking ball, fresh mortar, and mirror.
A convenient, imaginary Wallace Stevens is Margaret’s companion through the play. They bicker, play the roles of post-cynical mentor and strugglingly earnest (though not young and fresh) mentee. Amidst Stevens’ jocular badgering, Margaret beings to use words as poetry again. As she opens herself up to exercising this atrophied muscle, a flood of missed opportunities, a life of poems witnessed and never written down, threatens to break her before she can buttress her renewed ambition with her hard won insights.
Stevens’ Blackbird stanzas are threaded throughout the regaining of Margaret’s poetic voice. She must understand that poem (that was integral to her initial love of, and eventual defeat by, poetry). She must crack its code to move beyond it. Which she does, in a way. This element was unsatisfying. If the audience is willing to believe she has kept this poem with her through her aborted studies, her miscarried and purposefully shed pregnancies, her love and her loss, we then expect some deeper communion and revelation with Stevens’ words. They were, instead, more patched on, stanza by stanza, as almost literal epilogues to each episode of the life she shows to us. How depressing to use poetry as nothing more than yet another way for each of us to look at ourselves.
Presentation of the work
The play was incongruously even for the revisitation of a series of upheavals, especially under the canopy of a poem so dichotomously balanced by its use of both the blatant and the subtle. The tone of this incarnation of the play seemed stuck on a metaphorical volume level of eight. Lawrence has the burden of her natural good nature and enthusiasm infecting the air around her at all times. While infectious goodness and enthusiasm are wonderful qualities, in this instance they were a persistent distraction.
Both Lawrence and Hugh Thompson (as Stevens) built some good chemistry together. There are moments where the character of Margaret does find the right (poetic) words and the satisfaction of her accomplishment shines through Lawrence’s clear bright face. Thompson lets her shine (both the character and the actress) with a smile and a soft nod and an unfocusing of his gaze, which amplify (without crowding) Margaret’s small but pivotal accomplishments. Thompson’s portrayal was threaded with elements of clowning. This is emphasized with silly costume props (a wedding dress, a birding hat). None quite absurd enough for absurdism and yet none seemless enough to seem necessary.
In the program, the director, Mary Vingoe, says, “…maybe it’s a buddy story between two eccentrics? A struggle to understand an enigmatic poem? A celebration of sex? It is Solved By Walking is all of the above and more. You chose [sic]!”. The problem is, it could almost have been any of those things. But it needed to be one of those things. With writing attempting such elevated multi-facet-ism, a shared coherency of vision is especially important. The goals and the talents of those involved never quite coalesced in a unified direction.