Def: wordhouse (adj.) a darkly intellectual romp

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

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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8 thoughts on “Def: wordhouse (adj.) a darkly intellectual romp

  1. henry griffin

    I saw this piece performed on the Friday night viewing, and found the acting to be amateur at best, the direction childish and naive, and the only redeeming quality of the piece to be the skillful lighting of Brian Sneeden, once again proving writers should stick to writing, and leave acting to those trained to do it.

  2. Jargon

    Sounds very much like a resentful someone with a personal axe to grind.

  3. Jason

    Dear Henry,

    Dear, Dear, lopsided, misguided Henry. I’ll have you know that not only is Aaron a trained actor, but he has won national competitions at Harvard, Wake Forest and at Yale. Have you the same accomplishments on your resume?

    As for a writer sticking with writing, and an actor sticking with acting, I’d say the same for critics , if only you were worthy of the title, alas you are merely a criticaster.

    I found the play to be extremely witty, in fact it is by far the best local production I have seen to date. Perhaps you missed the literary allusions,
    that I personally found to be a hallmark of the very well read writer.

    Kudos to the cast, hopefully they will continue in their endeavors to delight audiences with their fresh, spirited productions.

  4. Aaron Gunn

    Jason! Kudos to your kudos! Kudos for everyone will be passed around! But seriously, Henry Griffin has a point. We are all, technically speaking, amateur actors. If there are completely self supporting professional actors in this town I haven’t met them. Everyone involved in this production did it for love…love and the crippling need for the approval and adoration of an anomnymous crowd- the hallmark of true theater.

    Anyway, I just thought add my two cents, because I’m at work and I’m bored.

    Oh, one more thing.

    Henry Griffin, I’m calling you out. I’ll outact you any day of the week. For serious. Name the day and the play and I will be there and I will be wearing acting pants. And I promise these pants will be more dramatic than yours. SHAZAM!

  5. monica

    henry’s comments seem to be transparent, malicious manisfestations of his jealously..smells like sour grapes to me….the writing was sheer brilliance, acting was a perfect fit for the characters, director proved her talent and dedication and the simplicity of the stage was a powerful factor. i feel this performance was just the beginning of a promising future for long talks/ little couch productions! henry must be called out- he certainly was not there when he claimed, as i was familiar with all audience members in one way or another. he may not be educated enough to understand the literary references and colloquialisms as i couldn”t find a single aspect to criticize. i highly encourage all ashevillians to attend a performance this weekend before you miss out on a fabulous play!

  6. patron698

    I think the reviewer is spot on. The play was very intelligent, well written and very well staged especially for such a small venue. It had a great story that pulled you in and true laughs. My evening was very well spent. Every town needs this kind of theatre. I wish little couch the best for their future.

  7. Sammie Seale

    Hi Devin! Looks like you’re having fun and alot of success doing what you love to do. Your papa has no button’s on his shirts and your mama can’t stop grinnin’. I’ve heard your sister’s paying attention too! Even though the only things I’ve read are the reviews and coments, I’m proud of you too and so happy you’re being recognized for your work and enjoying that elusive thing call success. Love and blessings to you, dearest Devin.

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