Take Me Back to Coles Notes before Take Me Back to Jefferson
Photo Credit: Katherine Fleitas
Before you head to the NAC for its latest production, Take Me Back to Jefferson, do yourself a favour and dig out your high school English class copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, or at least your Coles Notes version if you still have it. If not, you may be taken aback by Take Me Back to Jefferson, as it may at times seem disjointed, hard to follow and the content of the play quite gloomy.
Take Me Back to Jefferson is an immensely sad, dark play about the journey of a dysfunctional, dirt-poor family who must get their dead matriarch’s remains from its home to Jefferson, Mississippi, where she wanted to be buried. The Blundren family, consisting a father and five children (one of whom was actually fathered by the local minister, just to add a plot twist), drags her coffin on the voyage on a meagre wagon. Along that putrid voyage, as the body decomposes, the family deals with many obstacles.
This is not a “feel good” play, but then again, neither is the beautifully written book upon which it is based. It is hard to watch certain scenes—for example, the sons try to recover an escaping coffin from precarious situations. Scenes are kind of morbid and yet riveting at the same time.
The production itself is beautiful to watch and the lighting and sound are both perfectly haunting. The Theatre Smith-Gilmour Company is a theatre group that uses physical theatre to tell a story. There are minimal props (other than a few basic elements) and lots of physical movement to help tell the story. The actors capture the right level of quirkiness for their characters. It is, however, a bit off-putting when Addie, the dead mother, takes the stage and speaks. She has a distracting, thick French accent which doesn’t really fit in with the others’ Southern drawl.
Other than that, the production is interestingly intriguing on many levels. In fact, it also lingers with you for days as you contemplate the dire poverty of the family and how it copes with other very human and humbling experiences. Theatre need not always entertain in a way that makes you comfortable. This one falls into that category and is worth seeing.
Take Me Back to Jefferson runs until April 11 at the NAC.