by Wally Lamb
Produced by: Book-It Repertory Theatre
Adapted and Directed by: Kelly Kitchens
Photos by: Alan Alabastro
She’s Come Undone was both the most cue heavy sound design I’ve done as well as one of the most artistically challenging and fulfilling. I was challenged both as a person as well as an artist during this process. I was struck by the journey of the main character Dolores. I resonated with the pain of her growing up and how like so many others she handled it with denial and running to some other comfort. During the course of this heart wrenching story I was impacted by Dolores’ character arc and growth. I wanted to bring the audience on her journey, pulling them into that pain; I wanted them to almost go crazy with her, and then travel with her on her slow journey to honesty, grace and love for herself. Not everything turns out perfect for her, but she is able to have peace despite her circumstances. That same hope and peace is what I wanted audiences to walk away with.
In initial design meetings, Kelly emphasized how important the ocean was to Dolores’ story: beginning with a scene with her father on the beach, almost ending her life when she attempted to drown herself, and eventually became a place of meaning and serenity for her.
Top of Show – Ocean underscoring the opening monologue which introduces this as a memory play and then transitions into the first scene from her childhood with the television
The scenic design took a lot of influence from a dock by the ocean. I wanted the music in the show to reflect these blue/green varied colors and the ocean waves. I composed relatively simple synthesized pieces with lots of oscillation and movement so it would feel almost like liquid and match the emotional undertone. The only time actual songs were played was when it was called for in the script as something the characters interacted with and these were all period songs rather than modern.
Transition Music from throughout the show
In choosing sound effects, I was very careful to pick a few specific ones to help set scene or reality when necessary, but in no means was it meant to be a realistic design. Kelly said this is a play of memories, as we journey through Dolores’ past, we remember as she does. I continually asked myself, what sounds does she remember? As Dolores continued in her downhill arc, I brought back some of the sounds and voices of the past in her nightmares. The directional sound came into play here as the sound became more segmented and overlapping as she continued to struggle. Television was a large part of Dolores’ past, so I had the chance to pull in a lot of fun historical TV audio, such as old game shows and the moon landing.
Dolores Nightmare Act 1 – WARNING: contains strong language
Top of Act 2 – Intermission into Dolores as a patient in a mental hospital – WARNING: contains strong language
The only time I used non-period music was at the end of each act. Both of these scenes took place by the ocean. The music came up out of the waves and in a way carried the audience into more of the present where hopefully they would be able to relate with Dolores’ story in some way. The end of Act 1 was meant to feel somber as Dolores is finally overwhelmed with her pain and has just tried to drown herself. The end of Act 2 was meant to be joyful, there is sorrow from the past that will always be with us, but there is much joy and anticipation in truly living. Each of these pieces were multiple sound cues that progressed with Dolores’ dialogue and responded to or cued her actions. I have included the script from under these pieces to help provide some context to the sounds being heard.
(ocean from afar, then closer during next)
I walked and walked. Fat girl on a skinny road. I found the beach. The whale lay surrendered on her belly. Already the air had a stink to it: she had begun her rot. I waded in. I watched my fat turn gooseflesh blue. Waded out. Deeper. This was how I could die. I lifted up and went under. I was weightless. Her milky eye stared back at me. (fights to stay under; but her body rebels; she crashes to surface; gasping, spitting, coughing; it is throbbing cold; she shakes uncontrollably) I don’t know how long I sat there.
(Smiling, squatting down beside her) Hello there.
Would you by any chance be Dolores Price? (DOLORES nods)
He had plump little yellow teeth, like a row of sweet corn.
Some people been looking for you. They been worried.
You look cold. Are you? (DOLORES nods) Then let me get a blanket. (talking into his radio) Okay, she’s here. I got her.
END OF ACT ONE
I’m taking us on a whale watch. (sound of boat horn, the sea, etc)
(on bullhorn? directing people) Inside the cabin
(excited) An hour and a half out into open sea
(excited) The air smells of wet hair and wet sweatshirts
(not into this) And some seasick woman’s vomit
The guide offers theories on why we have seen no whales. The snack bar will be open during the trip back to port, which will be starting in ten minutes. (they exit)
Yeah…but it’s okay.
The rain’s stopped.
I’m fidgety. I think I’ll go out back for a minute.
It’s cold out there. Want some company?
No thanks. (she walks to the back of the boat; now in her position at/mirror of top of show) I know now I will never have a baby. But I think this: that whatever sorrows I shoulder, well, I have blessings, too. Not just my family now, but the others—the ones who have died: Ma and Grandma, Mr. Pucci, Vita Marie. They’re with me still. They’re here… (then, she sees…) Just beyond the boat—the gray ocean turns green—a twenty foot circle of bubbles…I’m so close to it (looks back) the crew doesn’t see it…Thayer! Thayer! I don’t have time to get him—I can’t afford to look away—and then—
Nose first, her grooved body heads straight for the sky, her muscular tail clears the water, her fins are black wings. The fall back is slower. Grace instead of power. She cracks the ocean! I’m soaked in her spray. Christened. (laughing, crying, licks the salt off her lips; searching for, running for Thayer)
Thayer! I saw her! I saw!
END OF ACT 2
END OF PLAY
The hardest moment in any play I’ve ever designed was the rape scene from Act 1 of this show. Dolores was a 12 year old girl at the time and is brought out on a drive by the husband of a couple renting a room from her grandma. He drives her out of town to an unoccupied dog shelter and rapes her. This was such a a defining moment of the show and the character development. The theatre artistic directors had suggested stylizing it more. Kelly and the design team thought about it, and agreed as horrible as it is, this scene was an essential part of Delores’ story, so it was depicted in a more realistic way. The hope was for women who have experienced the same tragedy would be impacted by Dolores’ journey to recovery. The process of making this scene realistic was excruciating for me – creating barking dogs that sounded just right, getting the level of the heartbeat in the subs just right, and picking the right speakers for the static and high frequencies of Dolores’ mind was incredibly challenging. When everything was dialed in, I experienced both the thrill of victory and wanted to vomit at the same time. I have never in my career experienced a moment in theatre that was so beautiful and so horrific at the same time.
This was a powerful show that deeply impacted me as well as the audience and the reviewers. The author of the book, Wally Lamb, came to opening night. It was nominated for quite a few local Seattle theatre awards, including my sound design which was nominated for best sound design of 2013-2014 by Broadway World Seattle.