Friday, March 07, 2008

From the Dumpster #2: Nicholson Baker's VOX


FROM THE DUMPSTER is a recurring series that will let you in on ideas we've had that never made it to the stage. While it's possible that a few of these will be salvaged at some point, most of them--quite simply--STINK. Feel free to heckle, steal anything you like, or offer a word or two of encouragement.

Nicholson Baker's novel VOX is the transcript of a single phone conversation between two strangers who meet on an adult chat line. The man and the woman swap stories, fantasize outlandishly, and explore all kinds of thoughts and feelings about sex. It may sound a little mundane, but the author has a way of perceiving life's tiniest details in odd and inventive ways. Some people find it unbearable; Stephen King compared the book to a "meaningless little fingernail paring." I like to think of Baker's writing as the type of thing Jerry Seinfeld might come up with if he was twice as smart, completely OCD, and didn't care about being funny.

Here's an excerpt: "I mean, just look at the drop in arousingness between Playboy magazine and the exact same women when they're moving from pose to pose on the Playboy channel. It's true that I don't actually get the Playboy channel, so I see everything on it through those houndstooth and herringbone cycles of the scrambling circuit, and I keep flipping back and forth between it and the two channels on either side of it because sometimes for an instant the picture is startled into visibility just after you switch the channel, and you'll catch this bright yellow torso and one full fran with a fire-engine-red nipple, and then it teeters, it falters, and collapses--and I've noticed that the scrambling works least well and you can see things when nothing is moving in the TV image, i.e., when it's a TV image of a magazine image, sort of as if the scrambling cicuitry is overcome in the same way I am sometimes overcome by the power of fixed pictures. I once stayed up until two-thirty in the morning doing this, flipping."

While I don't think VOX is Nicholson Baker's best work (probably Fermata or U and I), it's by far the easiest to adapt for the stage. Around 2004, we played around with the idea of staging it in two different houses in the same neighborhood. Half the audience would go to the man's house, and half to the woman's. At intermission, either the actors or the audience would swap houses. Like the characters they're watching, the audience begins the show blind to the other character's identity. I imagine they'd listen to the voice (on speakerphone) and make all kinds of assumptions that would come crashing down once the "switch" occurs. There's still a chance we'll do this someday, but it would require the right actors, the right houses, and some fairly pristine audio technology all falling into our reach at once.

1 comment:

Jooley Ann said...

I like this one. Do it! Do it in suburbia.