The Liberty Theater is the smartly chosen setting for the small gem that is “The Waste Land.” Director Deborah Warner and lighting designer Jean Kalman transform the bare stage of this once-elegant theater into an environment of shadow and light to illuminate Fiona Shaw’s brilliant performance of the T.S. Eliot poem.
In her American debut, Shaw, a star of the Royal Shakespeare Company, acts as a dramatic archeologist, bringing to life the “broken images” from which Eliot constructed his 1922 meditation on death and resurrection. She captures every nuance and gives distinctive voice to each of the poem’s characters.
Warner’s direction and Kalman’s lighting are of a piece with Shaw’s performance. A purposeful feeling of audience isolation is deepened by the use of a few bare work lights to faintly illuminate the towering void above the barren stage. Shaw moves from the sanctuary of one dimly lit area to the next as she plays out the five sections of the poem. A spotlight sharpens the edges of her appearance and, occasionally, a bank of footlights serves to cast her shadow 100 feet high against the theater’s back wall. These minimal effects have maximal impact.