Dark Waltz

In Performance Reviews on March 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm

A Look into Kaitlin Chisholm’s Interpretation of               “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

The unsuspecting audience member might chuckle through the first half of Kaitlin Chisholm’s senior recital, lulled by its musical introduction (played liltingly on an onstage piano) and its good-natured humor. By the end of the hour, however, Miss Chisholm masterfully carried the audience to the brutal but powerful ending of what recital coach Mr. Radford called “not a feel-good story at all.”

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a short story written by Flannery O’Connor in the 1950’s, is a startling tale that delves into the depths of human depravity. The story recounts the events of a family vacation to Florida through the perspective of the grandmother. The grandmother, both a sympathetic and a despicable character, serves as a commentary on self-righteous people. Miss Chisholm’s portrayal made it clear that this character was not to be respected, even though what the grandmother wanted most was respect. It is her fixation on the supposed refinements of her past that lead to her family’s demise when she insists on going down an abandoned road to find an old house. It is this diversion that leads the family into the path of a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer, who systematically slaughters the whole family, even the grandmother—who is, in fact, his own mother.

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

Miss Chisholm’s stellar characterization defined each character precisely so that there was no confusion as to who was who. She gave every character, from the grandmother to the gasoline station owner, a distinct voice and posture. They were not characters made to be loved as much as they were made to be learned from. As far as characterization goes, Kaitlin Chisholm admits readily that the serial killer, The Misfit, was by far the hardest to portray. She wanted him to come across as a normal person; a very relatable everyman. The last thing she wanted to do was to play him up as the stereotypical villain. His scariest feature had to be his normalcy, because it “makes the evil more evil when it doesn’t seem evil.” The resulting portrayal? An empty-eyed, but unnervingly conversational and truly “normal” sort of villain.

They were not characters made to be loved

They were not characters made to be loved

Several audio and light cues added gravity and interest to the telling. The set consisted of five brightly colored folding chairs arranged in front of a well-worn piano, its front panel removed to leave the hammers exposed. The chairs were rearranged from mimicking car seating to seats at a restaurant and then back to car seating as the story progressed. It became clear that the chairs represented the characters in the story. Kaitlin Chisholm occupied the middle back seat, indicating the grandmother’s place in the car, and referred to the other characters as sitting in the other seats, one per character. She showed the family’s car crashing by knocking over the chairs under blood-red lighting, with only the father’s chair remaining upright as he was the only one not displaced during the crash. As each character died at the hands of The Misfit’s henchman, she placed their collapsed folding chairs into a square bracket of light on the floor. She accompanied the grandmother’s death with a mournful rendition of “The Tennessee Waltz,” exploring the effectiveness of “music not making sense with what happens.” The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The question burning in the audience’s mind was this: “Why this story?” Miss Chisholm was struck by the story’s gruesome, but accurate portrayal of evil. She wanted her audience to leave Performance Hall with the message that Flannery O’Connor set out to communicate: that we all are innately evil, and without the grace of God, a good man would not just be hard, but impossible to find.  

By Emma GallowayIMG_8607


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