Friday Night, March 9, Something To Do

March 8th, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

We are en route to an exciting, undisclosed location. This involves rising at an unnatural hour and not posting original snark here. Yes, this does mean that you get to read something new and fresh for a change. While we do not normally get all L.A.-centric on you, sometimes needs must. Los Angeles is about as close the Center of the Universe as you can get.

We are excited to bring your attention to a local production called Severance, a world premiere adaptation of Severance: Stories, a collection of shorts by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. Severance “…is an ensemble-based production merging abstract staging, dance, music and design to provide a striking profile of human history.” It also, to quote more liberally from the press release as we think it’s just spot on,

…delves into the thoughts of the decapitated. The play and the stories told there-in are based on the premise that the human head lives for ninety seconds after the moment of separation, and that in that final moment the mind continues to remember, ponder, and regret. The infamously beheaded, from Cicero to Marie Antoinette, Jayne Mansfield to John the Baptist, join a cast of victims from across time and humanity to present a bittersweet account of life on Earth, and the inescapable moment of death.

C’mon admit it, you’re curious. If you only had ninety seconds, where would your mind go? You, over there, stop it. Pastrami sandwiches are not appropriate final thoughts.
The director and the creative force behind Severance, David Jette, says this about the production:

I have adapted books for the stage before, but Severance presented to me a unique challenge. The book spans all of human history, a long time for a one-act play to handle. Also, it is composed entirely of inner thoughts, it is almost devoid of dialogue, and has no plot to speak of. So, when we first sat down with Robert’s text, our challenge was to find a play hidden somewhere between these indescribably private moments.

Each of his stories is so intimate and terrifying, simultaneously grand in scope and singular in voice, that I was always confident that each could have a vivid life on stage. The task for our ensemble was to bring them together and to tell a story of life on earth as seen from the moment of death. What we learned quickly is that this is not a book about death. Our subject is very much alive! It is an exigent instant of life distilled, where the scent of jasmine is stronger than the fear of death, and where the conscious mind must choose it’s final task. Would you spend your last moment in horror? Would you look back at your life and try to understand?

In the end, it was Robert’s repeated images, like the iconic Executioner in tailcoat and white tie, and his strong recurring themes of regretful love and truncated salvation that helped me connect the dots. We embraced the episodic quality of the book, but also took some theatrical liberties to craft a more complete and living play. It has been a welcome effort, and I thank Robert for bringing an open mind into this process. I hope that we’ve done justice to his work.

Robert Olen Butler is in town this weekend, and will be doing a post-show, one-night-only (one for the world!) discussion on Friday, March 9. You should be there.

Plays March 2nd–March 31st , Thursdays–Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, at The McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Visit for details. Use code 005 for a $10 discount when buying online. Do it. You’ll feel better. Especially if you keep your head.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • wendi // Mar 8, 2007 at 9:03 am

    I saw Bob Butler read from this book a few weeks ago at the Writer’s Center here in Bethesda. He’s an amazing reader and we were all on the edge of our seats. I don’t know how they’re adapting the monologues, but it’s worth picking up the book too. As for the Q. & A. with Butler, ask him the name of his next book….
    Enjoy! Wendi

  • SusanGable // Mar 9, 2007 at 6:47 am

    I’m a big fan of Butler’s book on writing called Writing from Where You Dream.

    Hope you have a great time!