Elements presents Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’

By Barbara Clark, Barnstable Patriot Elements Theatre Company has a way with words. In fact, “bringing words to life” is a major part of theirits mission, according to the company’s director, Sr. Danielle Dwyer. For the past year, the company has been concentrating on the words and works of William Shakespeare, looking toward the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016. This summer, however, Elements has taken a bit of a side tour to Northern England, albeit with words still uppermost, to produce an uncommon theater event -- a selection of three monologues, part of a series of 12 originally written for the BBC by award-winning British playwright, screenwriter, actor and author, Alan Bennett. The series, titled “Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads,” was broadcast on BBC-TV in 1988 and 1998, with segments later shown on the PBS series “Masterpiece Theatre” in America and performed in many locations since. To tell the truth, said Dwyer in a recent interview, she’s “wanted to do this [series] for a long time,” and she feels it’s an ideal fit for the ensemble, enhancing their mission of “exploring the vitality of the word and the deepest truths present in the text.” “Language is a huge thing when you’re working with Shakespeare, and (with 'Talking Heads') we wanted to focus on this in a different way,” using Alan Bennett’s wordsmithing talents, Dwyer said, adding that Bennett is a master at “finding phrases [that are] true to the characters” portrayed. Dwyer described “Talking Heads” as “extremely candid and funny, as well as extremely revealing.” The theater group’s press release calls the monologues “snapshots” that are “brilliantly funny, revealing and gritty … a riveting observation of humanity in all its humor and tragedy.” It’s the “revealing” part that may stick with theatergoers. The characters are not “who you’d like to be,” said Dwyer, but they often display disturbing similarities to our own inner lives. We can get that frisson of “I’ve been there” in the way that Bennett captures both the characters’ loneliness and their humanity, or as Dwyer said, “the brokenness and how people live through it.” Each of the three monologues features a different character. In “Bed Among the Lentils,” a weary vicar’s wife; in “A Chip in the Sugar,” a middle-aged man whose aging mother suddenly connects with an old flame; in “A Lady of Letters,” a busybody who can’t stop interfering with others. With a monologue, how does a playwright capture and hold audience attention? Dwyer said that Bennett provides “a series of events” using “shifts of time” to maintain momentum. One monologue has four parts, another seven. Each part propels you on, offering “a reflection of what just happened,” as time moves on for the characters. Dwyer recalled that Bennett once said the plays are “full of action, though none of it is on stage.”