Theatre preview: “Leaving the Atocha Station” examines the artist’s mind

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From the June 12, 2014 edition

For Available Light Theatre’s latest production, artistic director Matt Slaybaugh adapted and directed one of his favorite books, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” the debut novel by Ben Lerner. About a promising poet named Adam who receives a fellowship to travel to Spain and work, but spends more time smoking joints, reading and looking for love, “Leaving the Atocha Station” could be construed as a coming-of-age tale.

That’s a minor element to the narrative, because it was complexity that attracted Slaybaugh most.

“One of the things I like about the book, and also the way [Lerner] talks about [it], is [it] asks a lot of questions and left them open,” Slaybaugh said, adding that he likes to create and consume art that’s more about questions than answers.

So what are some of the questions being asked?

“[Adam] is trying to figure out — this is one of the big questions — what the difference is between the you that you are inside your head, and the you that you perform around other people? He’s aware of that distance and [how] it makes him feel disconnected from the world,” Slaybaugh said.

Another important contemplation is the value and process of art’s creation.

“The main character is a poet who doesn’t necessarily believe he’s in the full success of poetry,” Slaybaugh said. “So he asks … if art doesn’t succeed, does that mean art isn’t worth doing? Or is that failure actually part of what makes it worthwhile?”

“Leaving the Atocha Station” is told from Adam’s (played by Ian Short) perspective, in a presentation-style, relaying the story of his trip. Four other actors make up 15 total characters, who act-out Adam’s narration, often differently because the lead is a classic unreliable narrator (who struggles with the language barrier). Another way of showcasing Adam’s point-of-view arrives via a series of film/video projections, some as simple scenery, others as more ethereal digressions into Adam’s mind.

Matt Slaybaugh photo