Some people hate to see the stage or screen version of their favorite novels and stories because of the liberties taken in the adaptation. Since 1993, San Francisco’s Word for Word has taken a beguiling approach: Present the original work exactly as written, down to the he-saids and she-saids, allowing the author’s voice to come through. Word for Word shows are rarely staged in a completely naturalistic fashion, often following instead a sort of dream logic in the movement and design choices, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks. Sometimes the effect is gorgeous and sad (Winesburg, Ohio), sometimes rowdy and lively (many of the company’s collaborations with Traveling Jewish Theatre), but the stories chosen for the treatment are always smart and layered, and the casting excellent.
Strangers We Know pairs “Mlle. Dias de Corta” by Mavis Gallant with “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People” by Lorrie Moore in an examination of how what we think we know about the people closest to us can be completely inaccurate. In the first, a lonely Parisian woman takes in a wild young would-be actress as a boarder, creating ripples through her family. In the second, a woman terrified because she needs to start speaking in public decides that going to Ireland to kiss the Blarney Stone will help — but bringing her mother may not. Both stories, performed here by a cast of six, deal with fish out of water — the boarder who wipes a jam-sticky finger on her skirt to the muted horror of her proper landlady, the mother and daughter lost somewhere in the vast greenness of Eire trying not to say the wrong things to the wrong people — in a gentle, almost wistful fashion.
While something never quite jelled in the opening night performance of “Mlle. Dias de Corta” — the story felt thin despite the actors’ crisp delivery — “Which Is More than I Can Say” is hilarious, due as much to the work of Sheila Balter and Patricia Silver as the tongue-tied Abby and her mother as to the text and director Joel Mullennix’ clever blocking. Leprechauns appear out of nowhere, a determined sheep (Maria Candelaria) makes off with a guidebook, and getting to the Stone itself proves almost too much for the intrepid duo, who are already on the verge of strangling each other. Recommended for anyone who’s ever traveled with their parents as adults, or vice versa, and lived to tell the tale.