“Life was a subdued hum, ” goes one of the lines in Alessandro Baricco’s “Silk, ” the 1993 novel about a French silkworm merchant and his life-altering travels to Japan during the mid-nineteenth century. In adapting the book for the stage, director Mary Zimmerman retains that all-important line and takes it to heart; the Goodman premiere of her latest work is defined by an overriding serenity in its storytelling. Year after year, Herve Joncour (a rakishly stoic Ryan Artzberger) kisses his wife goodbye and embarks on the difficult journey from France to Japan—an arduous task given short shrift here and in the book, but no matter—where he falls into a kind of stuporous love with a gorgeous young woman with European-shaped eyes (Elaine Yuko Qualter). She is, throughout the story, an enigma—we never learn who she is or the secret of her features—and perhaps that is the appeal for Herve, who first encounters her while meeting with her keeper, a powerful silkworm farmer named Hara Kei (Tohoru Masamune). It is this moment, in particular, that Zimmerman captures with her trademark skill: the young women, seemingly asleep with her head resting on Hara Kei’s lap, opens her eyes to gaze at Herve. It is a silent but enormously effective exchange—they had each other at hello, if either had bothered to speak. Over the years, they are only able to exchange the briefest of glances and like a fable, their non-affair (guided by Christopher Donahue’s unobtrusive narration) unspools in a series of spare but potent scenes that don’t so much hit you in the face, but seep through your skin. For better and for worse, the characters here are expressively mute. It’s a very subtle effect—at times too subtle. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.