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Review: Susan Sontag is doubled in new play homage

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Photo -   This undated theater photo released by Richard Kornberg and Associates shows Moe Angelos in "Sontag: Reborn", currently performing off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Kornberg and Associates, Joan Marcus)
This undated theater photo released by Richard Kornberg and Associates shows Moe Angelos in "Sontag: Reborn", currently performing off-Broadway at New York Theatre Workshop in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Kornberg and Associates, Joan Marcus)
Entertainment,Theater

NEW YORK (AP) — If you recall your youthful diaries or journals as being on the shallow side, you'll really cringe when comparing them to the ambitious eloquence to be found in essayist Susan Sontag's published journals.

Sontag, who died in 2004, is considered one of the most influential writers of her time, with works like "Against Interpretation," ''Illness as Metaphor" and the 1992 novel, "The Volcano Lover." The latest iteration of an insightful one-woman homage to her, titled "Sontag: Reborn," that opened Thursday night downtown at the New York Theater Workshop, is an invigorating, visually compelling sampling of her early personal journals and notebooks.

Marianne Weems of The Builders Association, which first created the work in 2010, directs with simplicity and sophistication. Moe Angelos, who helped adapt this production using the second volume of Sontag's journals, published in 2012, performs quite impressively as two Sontags from different times in her life.

Onstage, Angelos creates a lively, youthful Susan, as she scribbles entries and reads aloud journal selections that were written from Sontag's teens through her mid-30s. Fellow diarists take heart; there's some silly stuff, too.

Sontag's penchant for quirky or maniacally detailed lists is presented, along with negative comments on marriage and motherhood and impatient early vows, such as, "Let me note all the sickening waste of today, that I shall not be easy with myself and compromise my tomorrows."

Hovering omnisciently to one side, in a large black-and-white projection, is Angelos' pre-recorded impersonation of a 60-something Sontag puffing on cigarettes while wryly commenting on the entries. In response to young Susan writing, "It is useless for me to record only the satisfying parts of my existence...", older Sontag quips, "There are too few of them anyway!"

A second projection directly above Angelos gives a birds-eye view of her large writing table. On the screen, journals and writing are animated, which is pleasing to watch while Angelos' two Sontags bring the words vividly to life. Austin Switser's video design enriches the production, in complement with the entire design team.

Among the funnier entries is one in which Sontag, having read something negative about herself in a lover's diary, reflects accurately, "One main (social) function of a journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people."

Fortunately, we don't have to be furtive, as this inspiring production gives a tantalizing glimpse into one writer's journey from precocious genius to accomplished professional acclaim.

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Online:

http://nytw.org

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