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What an idea, Linda!

September 21, 2018

This is the first official recognition here on the Varispeed blog that yes, the rumors are true, and indeed we’re going to be performing Robert Ashley’s Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) early next year at the Kitchen. It’s really exciting to be undertaking this piece, which in many ways is Bob’s most complicated one. We started working on it in summer 2017 and have been slowly ramping up. More info soon on timing and tickets and all that, but first off, enjoy this info on the front page of Bob’s site.

There’s so much to dig into with this piece, and we’ll share some thoughts over the next five months, but let’s start with a single line from Act I, Scene 12:

The last line Linda speaks in Act I is “This is Linda speaking”. I love this line.

There’s a few other instances in the piece of the chorus saying the same thing. It’s never in places where there’s ambiguity as to who’s speaking. While some of us give voice to several discrete characters over the course of the piece (eg Brian voices Don, Mr Payne, and Linda’s unnamed companion after Mr Payne in Scene 15, “The Good Life”), Gelsey only voices Linda. Granted, we all do most of the chorus parts. But the statement that Linda is speaking isn’t ever in ambiguous places for the listener, here most of all.

Linda’s identity morphs and expands in ways that are hard to pin down as a traditional narrative. In the logic of the piece, Linda represents the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Her travels and romances can be read as various attempts at assimilation and cultural cross-pollination, with varying degrees of success and rejection. The metaphor stretches in time from the late 15th Century to the late 20th Century, and accordingly there’s a lot of moments where Linda gets dropped into a new and unfamiliar world or suddenly has a new home, a new outlook, a new identity.

In this scene, she’s talking about slow these evolutions. There’s a resonance with the line in “The Park” from Perfect Lives about “how it comes to you that the light has changed”. After a first act in which she’s had her life upended and started to try to remake something for herself while maintaining a healthy skepticism, you can read “This is Linda speaking” as a simple affirmation to herself that she’s still there, that she’s still herself. It’s a beautiful line, I think.

– Dave

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