May 22, 2003
Tish Hicks wanted me to know she wasn't hurting her 10-month-old child, heard crying in the background of a recent phone interview. She had cause to clarify: In 2000's Fen at the Open Fist Theatre, she acidly played an abusive mom with a habit of extinguishing cigarettes on her young daughter, and in Open Fist's recently closed hit adaptation of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, she played Addie, the matriarch who takes out her epic disappointment with life on her unsuspecting family by bequeathing them a perverse, tragic posthumous wish. While I found Edward Kemp's adaptation, under Stefan Novinski's direction, uneven, Hicks' performance had a fierce integrity and life force; the "terrible blood" that Addie speaks of with a kind of sickened reverence was obviously pulsing through Hicks' veins.
"When that life force, the thing that makes you feel alive, gets stifled, it gets all twisted," said Hicks to explain the damage done by the damaged people of Fen and As I Lay Dying. A Northwestern grad who makes her living in voiceover, Hicks compared the challenge of Faulkner's evocative but opaque prose to Shakespeare--"it required that much analysis of the language"--but credited Novinski for his sense of scale, "from the very big to the very small, laser-pointÉ It doesn't take much [with him] to get from the very intellectual discussion to how that translates into the core emotional stuff."
Indeed the script's biggest challenge was its relentless emotional extremity. At one point, Hicks said, she asked Novinski, "What the hell do you want people to leave feeling? This is the most desolate thing I've ever read. He said, 'I want them to go home and call their families.'" Hicks, cradling her new son, said with a laugh of her two mother-monster roles, "I'm so not like that at all, but obviously it's somewhere in there." That's why they call it acting.