Word for Word takes on Gallant, Moore 

San Francisco’s Word for Word returns to the stage this week yet another of its unique verbatim productions, "Strangers We Know."

Since 1993, the group has staged short stories from literary masters such as Amy Tan and Tobias Wolff by preserving all nuances of the authors’ texts, even attributions like "he said." Yet, the plays are more than staged readings. If you’ve never seen one, the two-part "Strangers We Know," which opens Friday at the Magic Theatre, is a great chance to get some Word for Word action.

"It looks exactly like a play, but if you close your eyes, it’s like a group of people reading you a short story," explains Amy Kossow, who is directing the first act based on "Mlle. Dias de Corta," a short story by Mavis Gallant, an 83-year-old Canadian writer who has published more than 100 stories in the New Yorker.

"Mlle. Dias de Corta" takes place in Paris’ Chinatown in 1994, where a lonely 60-year-old French widow is writing a letter to an actress that once boarded in her apartment. "It’s a letter of longing and regret and love and disapproval," says Kossow, who transformed the second-person monologue of the letter into a six-person play.

Kossow says, "Our whole goal is to be true to the voice of the author. We just try to make things stand up off the page. It becomes 3-D [as] the background life of the story gets fleshed out."

The second act is a story written by another highly revered writer, Lorrie Moore, who is known for her sharp humor. Directed by Joel Mullennix, "Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People" tells the story of Abby Mallon, who in hopes of finding a connection with other people and overcoming her fear of public speaking takes an absurdly funny road trip in Ireland with her mother.

"The great thing about Moore’s story is that she takes particular situation and vivid characters, but she does it in such a way that it connects you to everyone," says Mullennix, who also stars in both acts. "She [shows] a great universality through the particular."

Although the two parts of "Strangers We Know" are written in very different literary styles, their common theme of a lonely protagonist searching for contact with others promises to make it an entertaining show of rich language and great stagecraft.

IF YOU GO

» "Strangers We Know"

» Presented by Word for Word and Z Space Studio

» Where: Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco

» When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 28

» Tickets: $15 to $33

» Contact: (415) 437-6775 or www.zspace.org

» Note: Show runs Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in Berkeley.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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