Everything That Rises Must Converge

Institute History

  • 1999 Theatre Lab


EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE (ETRMC) is a theatrical journey through four stories from Flannery O’Connor’s posthumous collection of stories under the same title. The stories are: A View of the Woods, the title story, Greenleaf and Revelation. The trajectory is loosely based on a Dantean structure: hell, purgatory, heaven. Yet the idiom is American. Once completed, the plan is to make a two-evening event in which the stories are divided in the following way: 1) “View” and “ETRMC”’ and 2) “Greenleaf” and “Revelation.” My plan at Sundance is to focus attention on the stories of the second evening.

The style of the piece is a dance between actor, word and space. The aesthetic is a spare one because the words must rattle inside the audience’s heads, hearts, viscera. I have decided to stage all the words in these stories because the words themselves, whether in the dialogue of the characters or in the narration, are all-important. O’Connor’s stories are inherently dramatic and the style is lean, muscular, funny, ferocious. The narration provides an opportunity to flesh out in the theatre what is a crowd in the head. The short story is seemingly a slight genre, but, in fact, it is not unlike an evening in the theatre in that it is a short space of time in which to pack the largest possible vision.

A company of actors plays the text just as musicians would a piece of jazz or baroque music: each actor takes a solo turn and also plays the attendant narration. The company consists of three black actors and five white actors. While it is necessary to be true to the stories’ social realism, the narration is spoken by both black and white. In this way the narration constitutes a theatrical frame in which a collective story is being driven. From this vantage point, the actors engage the audience to look back to the assumptions made in the middle of the American century, as well as to question our present assumptions.

The theatrical “world” of the play responds to O’Connor’s poetic style. It is not necessary to get bogged down in creating a realism with all the details of “southerness” and its attendant romantic proclivities. O’Connor demythologizes “southerness” in her explosion of white platitudes. Yet her characters were conceived in the rich soil of Georgia. So it makes sense that the “world” is actor-driven with the sounds of the various Georgia accents. The sounds and silences of the south are then juxtaposed with the sound of standard American English in the narration’s theatrical frame. This spare, elemental world supports the strongest imprint of O’Connor’s transcendent themes of humility, epiphany and grace. The company must have the quicksilver energy to play the narration and switch to the very heart of a character in the few strokes she gives us. In what seems like a prolixity of words I want to hear the image and see the sound. At the center of O’Connor’s world is the task to mine the human heart no matter what the social conditions of the surrounding body. The vision brings us to a new, unexplored territory in our spirit and imagination. Her rage is something to reckon with, but the laughter and the love are bigger yet. In O’Connor’s world the south meets eternity.
—Karin Coonrod

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