Chad Deal 6:58 p.m., May 21
Life imitates art, in David Leddy's drama, a lot.
This "site-specific audio-play" requires adjustments. You don't sit. You walk and wear headphones and listen to a Scottish-lilted voice who calls you "Wanderer." You stop at eight stations, press pause or play on an iPod, and a story unfolds. Actually four apparently unrelated stories that slowly come together.
At first, everything happens fast: not only getting used to the technology and different speakers, but also the "set." The San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly Quail Gardens) has surprises and floral wonders, it would seem, every 10 feet: cork and dragon trees, waterfalls and lily-padded reflective pools, a bamboo forest - and an overall stillness that's haunting.
If you don't count the man dissecting sparrows to find the cause of their trauma (his voice as dispassionate as the others are invested), the story concerns a "high-strung" family of musicians and the premiere of Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream (1960). Britten wrote the music and his lover, Peter Pears, the libretto. In Susurrus they resemble bickering Theseus and Hippolyta in Shakespeare's comedy.
The father is "puckish" Robin Goodfellow. His adopted son is Moth, and adopted daughter Helena. In Shakespeare, Goodfellow is another name for Puck. Moth is one of Titania's fairies, and Helena's one of the young women lost in the wood outside Athens. The family bears a resemblance to what happens in the play and happened at the opera's premiere, where love "juice" threw things "out of balance."
So life and art intertwine, with modern differences.
Around the time you become proficient at coordinating the iPod and the stations, the story also becomes clearer. Helena calls it "the Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Robin Goodfellow." She could have added "and his effect on his loved ones."
He's fired from the company and commits suicide. He may also have been sexually abusive. But, says Helena, that was a time before some actions had names ("stress" hadn't been invented yet). Moth and Helena wander, like the observer, through a maze of partial clarity, wondering "just was was the nature of that desire?"
The title refers to the sound of wind whistling through trees (and to whispers overheard nearby). The playwright chose the route through the Botanic Garden. Settings and scenes match up, the final one most of all: a bench in a park, surrounded by bamboo shoots, and the susurrus of wind whistling through them, as if on cue.