‘Dark House’ moves epic Faulkner story to modern-day D.C. with mixed results


Promotional artwork for the Capital Fringe Festival show "Dark House" by Tarpley Long. (Courtesy Tarpley Long and Capital Fringe Festival)
July 21, 2013

Because the Capital Fringe Festival can be so jammed with frivolity, the prospects of something serious can be especially appealing.

This would explain why so many people would pack a cramped second-floor theater space William Faulkner might describe as “dim hot airless” to see “Dark House,” Tarpley Long’s adaptation of Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” set in modern, gentrifying Washington.

Instead of a Mississippi plantation called Sutpen’s Hundred, we have 22 Logan Circle, a mansion that survived a tragic past to hit the market for $3.6 million. The potential payday for an ambitious agent (Meshaun Labrone) is delayed until the matronly Rosa Coldfield (Mary Agnes Shearon) can tell the story of her proud Georgetown family invaded by a mysterious social climber named Sutpen (Peter Boyer).

Faulkner’s celebrated Civil War novel is so convoluted with generations of miscegenation, near incest and murder that its SparkNotes summary, handed out to theatergoers before the curtain, seems ludicrous if it can be followed at all.

To adapt it to an era that begins with the 1968 D.C. riots is ambitious if not always seamless. (Could a drop of black blood in a white family cause more outrage than potential incest?)

Still, the script by Long, a psychotherapist by trade, uses a lot of Faulkner’s florid language, bringing a richness to the drama. But she adds her own modernist layers, in part by making Sutpen a bisexual simultaneously seducing a brother and sister.

There’s no faulting the fine cast members under first-time director Tracy McMullan; there are just not enough of them. To ask a half-dozen actors to replicate a cast of more than twice that adds complications and confusion to a work that doesn’t need more. The rapid shifts among characters that often jump generations cannot always be accomplished with an accessory change.

The inspired notion to update Faulkner in “Dark House” cries out for a larger, longer production in a far less airless space. In other words, this mansion of ideas needs further renovation before it can be put back on the market and really shine.

Catlin is a freelance writer.

Dark House

by Tarpley Long. 75 minutes. At Capital Fringe Festival through July 27. Visit www.capitalfringe.org.

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