“Beginners by Raymond Carver; or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” an upcoming production at the Yale Caberet, will explore the complex relationship between author and editor.
The play, which opens on Thursday and will run through Saturday, is an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s eponymous short story. Written by Phillip Howze DRA ’15, it stages the relationship between Carver and his friend and editor Gordon Lish by using the text of the story itself.
“The story is really beautiful in its brevity, and the theater is really ephemeral,” Howze said, adding that he didn’t aim to “update” Carver’s work but rather to bring to life his words and characters in an original way.
The original manuscript of Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” surfaced in 2007. The manuscript, titled “Beginners,” was much different from the published work and Howze said that the aim of his adaptation is to combine the two versions as well as include elements from Carver’s personal life, which he said is inextricable from his stories. Director Andras Viski DRA ’15 said that upon reading the script for the first time, he was struck by the question of what it means for an artist to have his or her work edited. He added that for an artist, the editing process entails “a struggle of the self” — one of the themes the play explores.
“I made a very conscious choice to put Carver’s biography in the work,” Howze said. “I feel a kinship to Carver’s personal biography: growing up in a working class family, wanting to be a writer, dropping out of college, then finding some angels along the way that [helped] in my development. I wanted to really honor that.”
Howze said he thinks the production is a “passion project” for members of the cast, emphasizing that the actors are all full-time students at the School of Drama and are pursuing the production alongside other theater-related projects. The cast is comprised of four actors: Aaron Bartz DRA ’15, Prema Cruz DRA ’14, David Bruin DRA ’16 and Ashley Chang DRA ’16.
The crew has expressed the theme of editing through the design of the set, Viski said. The characters will be set against a gray paper background onto which words from Carver’s story will be screened. Howze and Viski said that several props would be implied through the set-up rather than be visible on stage, adding that they expect audience members to fill in the details for themselves.
“We don’t want a burdensome experience,” Howze said. “We really want the audience to feel enveloped and embraced by the story but also be a part of the creative process, and create a little bit for themselves while they’re watching the play unfold.”
Viski noted that the dynamic between Carver and his editor exemplifies the struggle many artists undergo when deciding whether to make their work conform to their editors’ notions of a successful work of art.
“What you get to see is human life edited on stage, which is heartbreaking,” Viski said. “You see that editing something, for good or bad, just by its nature, cuts out something more than lines.”
Raymond Carver died in 1988.
Correction: Oct. 21
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Phillip Howze DRA ’15.