Vanishing Point is a poetic prose novel by Jeri Kroll, adapted for the stage by Leslie Jacobson. A reading of the play was presented on Monday, September 5, 2011, at the Page-to-Stage Festival at The Kennedy Center. Jeri Kroll and Leslie Jacobson answered questions after the performance.
Diana Warren is 18 years old and she thinks she’s fat but she’s not. She lives out in the country in Australia and it’s not too far from the ocean. Her older brother Phillip has Down’s Syndrome. Phillip is sweet and loving but he can be a handful. He listens to Diana when he won’t mind anyone else. Her father is a builder. He’s always out building something or fixing something. He doesn’t understand what’s up with Diana. Her mother keeps the house and she’s a gourmet cook. She worries about Diana and sometimes nags her. Her Gran comes to visit sometimes and Diana loves her grandmother, who is very wise. Actually, there are two Dianas, the “real” Diana and the “critical of self” Diana who pops up now and again to scold her.
There’s a handsome Irish boy Diana meets at school named Conor who loves horses the way she does. His family trains racehorses. So they’re in love and they gallop together down the beach on their horses. But Diana has problems and she doesn’t eat, and she turns away from Conor and won’t let him make love to her, and she withdraws from her family. Eventually she is so thin and sick she ends up in hospital. There she meets a beautiful old lady who’s always wearing silk and satin in wild colors. She and Diana get on well. The lady is really sick and knows she is dying, and before she leaves the hospital, she gives Diana a plum colored silk nightgown. After a while Diana gets better and goes home. That’s pretty much the end of the story.
It’s kind of Our Town-esque. Instead of a Stage Manager there’s a narrator standing off to the side who introduces scenes and characters. Even though the characters do engage in dialogue, it’s more like they are all doing monologues, because most of the time they are addressing the audience directly. It is either an exposition, like when Diana opens the play by saying her name and her weight (44 kilos), or they’re thinking out loud, as when Diana talks about flying at a gallop on her horse Sam: “We can face anything.” “I redeem me.”
Vanishing Point the play is taken from the novel, which combines verse and prose (an ancient Greek and Roman technique that is coming back as a new artform). Here is an excerpt of verse from the novel, which comes into the play almost verbatim.
There he is, that boy from class.
Don’t stare. Sip your latte.
This café’s packed. He won’t notice me.
And so is Conor striding to the bar.
Look at those glossy girls
shoving to make space for him –
Their order comes. The girls have to give way.
Now Conor has his meal he needs a seat,
scans the room. Our eyes lock for an instant.
I jump, caught out, retreat to reading. What?
Black figures prance before me on the page,
then freeze when the other seat scrapes out.
‘Mind if I sit?’
‘Fine. It’s free.’
He slides his crowded tray over to mine.
The silky smell of melted mozzarella,
tomatoes, garlic, basil,
makes my nostrils flare.
So Vanishing Point isn’t ‘Our Town so much as ‘Our Family.’ Although our lead is Diana and most of the story comes from her mouth, each of the characters speaks their own mind. They give their own view of Diana’s anorexia, her teenage aloofness and departure. And what you can see from the “he said, she said, and then I said” storytelling, written in mini-modules of character soliloquy, is that these people are not so much in conflict, filled with bad intent toward, or desperate competition with, each other as they are simply, completely self-absorbed. They are in their own heads so much, they can’t get into anyone else’s.
The play was adapted from a novel written by Jeri Kroll, a New York-born and -raised professor who emigrated to Australia after receiving her PhD in English from Columbia University. Kroll loves horses and in Vanishing Point, it is Diana’s love for horses and her exhilaration while riding them – that helps to lift her from her depression and self-negation. Leslie Jacobson, also from New York, is a professor at George Washington University and the founder of Horizons Theatre. Jacobson is interested in women’s issues and Vanishing Point is a natural choice for her and Horizons to produce.
Note to Americans: Weighing 44 kilos is not fat. It’s around 110 pounds.
The Post-performance Discussion:
Following the reading the authors led a discussion with the audience. They asked the audience for opinions about their intention to add music and motion to the staging. Asking for a show of hands about adding music, it seemed that more were against it than for it. One person cautioned that the rhythm found in the lines of poetry might clash with the rhythm of the music, if it is not carefully chosen.
Other Page-to-Stage articles:
Reflections on The Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival: ‘A to Z.’ and ‘That Colorblind Kind of Love’ on Saturday, September 3, 2011
Reflections on Page-to-Stage at The Kennedy Center: ‘Sex on Wheels,” Signature Theatre: American Musical Voices Project Repertory,’ and ‘Peter Pan: The Boy who Hated Mothers’ on Monday, September 5, 2011