I saw Grief is the Thing with Feathers this weekend at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. The play is powerful, emotional, evoccative, and stunning. I left the theater both drained and excited.
First things first, St. Ann's is one of most beautiful theater venues I have been in. It didn’t hurt that this play took full advantage of audio and visual production on this stage. It just worked. Set that aside I will say this, I would watch a Carvel Fudgie the Whale Cake melt on the St. Ann's Stage for two hours just to be in that venue.
I did not read any reviews of the play prior to going. I saw the title and said 'Oh yes.' Here are two reviews. One is from the Guardian. The other is from The Hollywood Reporter. The later is a more accurate review with extended background about the book, the playwright, author, and more.
Just a couple of quotes from the HWR review to set up my thoughts.
Published in 2015, Porter's novel (of the same name) is a heavily stylized polyphonic prose poem about an unnamed father wrestling with the devastating aftershocks of his wife's sudden death. The narrator's professional obsession with Crow, a 1970 poetry collection written by Ted Hughes in the shadow of Sylvia Plath's suicide, comes to haunt him in his fragile mental state. In Walsh's interpretation, the character of Crow takes the form of a physical alter ego, preying on the grieving widower in his London apartment, literally taking him over like a demonic possession.
I did not read the novel prior to the play so I went in seriously blind. I like blind. Being blind gives me a chance to react without any self imposed considerations.
Cillian Murphy plays the grieving dad and he plays the crow. It is powerful stunning in its intensity and he renders grief so beautifully it is palpable. To add to the power of this play is the use of projection visualization of words and messages. This is truly a multi-media presentation that is not short of a punch to the gut.
I personal identified with this play so much so I bought the book to read. One line that struck me was "Grief is a long term project." It is. Another thought I had while watching this is thinking about Sheryl Sandberg and her husbands sudden death and her book Option B. She said grief was a fog. In 'Grief is a Thing with Feathers' There is no fog. Grief is a thrashing nightmare. I have just read more of Sandberg's reaction to the death of her husband and she as well was thrashed and ripped by her grief. Fog is what it feels like but this fog is a thing of slasher movies. This is no gentle mist on the Scottish moors. Think Freddy Krueger.
I look back at the time following Donna's death and yup fog like. Kind of I guess. In the middle of watching Murphy portray the dad and the crow I am thrown back into the moments, months, and years after her death. I thought I was in a fog. It wasn't. In reality watching this play, all its power, and performance I see now it was not in a fog. I was in the middle of raging grieving wild ass insanity bordering on suicide. The power of the performance, the nuance of the language, and the explosive visuals on stage returned me to my 'fog' with eyes wide opened. The fog was ersatz at best and in reality a dark painful time. Still is at times.
I think this play gives us all a chance to step back, sit down, and think about our grief in real terms. Harsh terms. Powerful terms. Whether this play accurately portrays grief or its presentation of grief is over the top is not my jam. This play made me stop, think, and consider my grief and that is our path forward after loss.
As I read sections from Donna, A Photo Memoir of Love and Loss I written within a few years of Donna's death I can see the Crow was in my home and is still here in some regard.