A life between book and play

Tony Reck

The Lens Project is an ambitious attempt at delineating the relationship between literature and performance, while ruminating upon the mind of a man who has lived an uneventful life. Leonard Stone, a fictitious Melbourne spectacle maker, is the central character of a real book by Megg Minos. Seven days after the book’s launch, Leonard is the subject of a performance written and directed by Willoh S Weiland.

At the book’s launch, the author sells copies of Lens from piles on a trestle, but this is really Leonard Stone’s show. Objects indicating Leonard’s past are precisely arranged throughout the space. A city made from cardboard, Leonard’s home in miniature, a varnished wooden case containing various types of spectacles, and a delicate piece of lace. As those attending engage in raucous chatter, a woman appears, glides through the audience, sits in a chair and mouths words from a recorded song. Drenched in nostalgia, her voice wafts in and out of earshot: a memory from the life of Leonard Stone. Meanwhile, a technician has set up a microphone stand, only to return and dismantle it a short time later. Like the furtive imagination, Leonard Stone is enigmatic, everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, until I am quietly informed by the technician that Leonard’s life story has just been launched.

In the book, Leonard Stone’s entire life is on display: his birth in a rural town, the death of his father, Leonard and his mother moving to Melbourne, the First and Second World Wars, and the economic opulence of the 1950s. Within these personal and historical episodes further detail is extrapolated: Leonard’s mysterious illness, the family home as convalescence facility for returned servicemen, Leonard attending university, then opening a spectacle business. The 2 constants in Leonard’s life are his ubiquitous mother and his failing sight. In contrast, Leonard is introduced to the spectrum of light, initially by a convalescing painter, and then a university physics lecturer.

Leonard senses the possibility of life as an artist–perhaps a writer–only to be pressed into a career as a spectacle maker. Irma, his literature loving friend from university escapes to Egypt, and Leonard is left alone to trudge the streets of Melbourne in the winter of his years. The book ends with him meeting the apparently blind woman Grace. Upon this meeting Leonard Stone is: “…calm and free from the dialogue of eyes.”

How can a book that covers a time frame of 50 years, populated by 12 or so characters across several locations, find expression in a performance of 40 minutes? This project implicitly asks how is literature made theatrical? What should be included and excluded in the transition between literature and performance?

The staged version shifts between Leonard Stone’s business premises, the streets of Melbourne, Leonard’s home, and a rowboat on a river, without a designating word. The performance excludes the 2 World Wars, uses a dress to indicate the omnipresence of Leonard’s mother, and centralises the character of Grace, who is a minor character in the book. Leonard’s existential fear in the performed version finds expression in a spatial configuration that swings between intimacy and alienation, isolation and obsessiveness, with astute, considered performances from Merfyn Owen and Nicki Paull.

The Lens Project, writer-director Willoh S Weiland, writer Megg Minos; performers Merfyn Owen, Nicki Paull; fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, March 23-April 2

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 37

© Tony Reck; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2005