August 9, 2003


Description Beggared,
or The Allegory of Whiteness

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning


















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

Aired on WFAE on Friday, August 9, 2003.

The Farm Theatre calls itself Charlotte’s only experimental theatre. I might have argued this point prior to seeing their current production. It is one of those plays with two titles, Description Beggared, or The Allegory of Whiteness. Mac Wellman’s play is so outrageous, so completely indecipherable, yet hypnotically engaging, that I would find two or three more titles helpful in sorting out its meaning.

The story takes place in "a Vast, Metaphysical Rhode Island", where the aristocratic Ring family has gathered for a reunion. They bring with them their history, fears, accusations, and tales of lineage. The language is lovely to listen to; both highbrow and poetic, it is interspersed with nonsensical words spoken with hyperserious conviction.

Upon entering the room it appears that everyone is insane. Aunt Bianca prowls the stage like a spider, whispering to herself while her hands grab the air like a cat crawling up a tree in slow motion. Moth sits in a chair, quivering with age, muttering to herself, her most prominent prop a cane attached to a mannequin’s hand, which she handles like the lead baton in a parade. Cousin Julia wears a holster with two guns over an elegant evening gown. Louisa Outermost Ring appears out of place, as does Fraser Outermost Ring, perhaps partly because small bits of black peep out from the whirlwind of their white costumes.

The multiple visions of white on a black stage is dazzling. The white is differentiated by texture: There is a pleated skirt, a feather boa, shiny ribbons and sequins. They wear white leather shoes, pearls, a flowered bracelet and a fur hat. The set is made of white curtains, drawn up to meet a white platform and tent.

Among The Farm’s goals is to provide a safe space for young artists to hone their craft. Director Anthony Cerrato explores multiple components of theatre in Description Beggared. A proverbial theatrical chorus dressed in black doubles as musicians for the party. Like a Greek chorus, they sometimes speak in unison, and then break that mold by performing a litany of orchestrations, including ritualistic jungle dancing.

The intoxicating original score was written by two local musicians, Jon Phillips and Jason Loughlin. The actors sing, dance, speak in unison, and perform shadowy movements behind the curtain. By itself, the articulation of the dialogue is a worthy artform.

A central subject is one character’s fear of having his picture taken. The "devilish craft involves the complete effacement of the human soul," he declares. This theme is explored with picture frame props, and is exploited by a terrifying White Dwarf, who bounces in a squat like a crazy hen, threatening the family with a camera dangling from his neck. The actors are superb, and include Matt Cosper, Caryn Crye, Sydney Andrews, Cody Harding, and Ben Horner. Tara MacMullen is particularly regal.

Some theatre lends itself to explanation. Description Beggared, as performed by The Farm, is meant to be experienced by full immersion.

Lynn Trenning, August 9, 2003

The Farm Theatre can be reached at 704-348-1575.

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