Wordhouse, playing at the Asheville Arts Center through July 28, is superb. Written by Devin Walsh, directed by Adrielle Carlson and produced by long talks/little couch, the play deserves SRO audiences.
The story is that of a best-selling author, Checks Standish (played by Walsh), beset by writer’s block. After a skyrocket debut, Oprah, book tour, money, more money, still more money, and front-page fame, Standish is stuck. Six hundred pages into his next novel and he still hasn’t rediscovered his voice.
His agent and ex, Eliza Santacostanza (Ingrid Carson), signs him up for counseling with Dr. Kermit Wordhouse (Aaron Gunn), an established expert at coaxing blocked writers back to life. Action in the two-act play shifts from Wordhouse’s office to Santacostanza’s apartment and conversations in each slide into the other. Replete with literary fragments and references, the dialogue is clever and funny. Walsh has embraced the recursive style explicated in Douglas Hofstadter‘s masterwork, Godel, Escher, Bach, and used the technique in his script. (Hofstadter’s book is included as a prop, in case anyone misses the clues.) Standish writes parts of the play as it proceeds, with Carson and Gunn acting out parts as halting lovers, their dialogue starting and stopping as the author steers a laptop computer into his block, deletes, begins again. These other characters comment on the script, layering the plot with sub- and sub-sub-plots.
During one session on the agent’s sofa, Walsh and Carson erupt into spontaneous song, “Just a Dog,” about her dog—offering wonderfully silly relief to tension, as does a “laugh track in my pocket,” that emerges in Wordhouse’s office. But there’s darkness here too, exploration of tragedy and its aftermath, of sexuality and its variety, of psychology and counseling and how we support each other, or fail.
Both Gunn and Carson turn in excellent performances, maintaining a tension precisely shy of over-the-top. Walsh, essentially playing himself or some part thereof, is exemplary as well—though clearly not blocked on his own writing.
Good stuff. Carlson has done well by Walsh in her direction, and Brian Sneeden handles the sound and lighting to fine effect.
A great first production for long talks/little couch, this is the sort of stuff Asheville will one day be famous for. Or maybe is already.
Two more shows: Friday and Saturday, July 27 & 28, 8 p.m. Asheville Arts Center, 308 Merrimon Ave., $15/$10 with student I.D. Probably warrants an “R” rating for language.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer