theater (reviews)

review: woyzeck

[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-WOYZECK.html]

WOYZECK

by Georg Buchner
Directed by Greg Allen
Greasy Joan & Company at Live Bait Theater
3914 N Clark Street / (312) 458-0718
www.greasyjoan.org
Through December 17, 2006

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 12, 2006

Greasy Joan‘s newest offering at Live Bait Theater continues the company’s ongoing commitment to challenge audiences thematically, visually, aurally, stylistically. Greg Allen‘s creative staging of Buchner‘s 1837 play fragment “Woyzeck” continues this tradition. As a newcomer to the tradition of creatively staging this early modernist/expressionist play, I was riveted. I leave it to the substantive experts to place the particular production in its dramaturgically earned place. This particular production, as a piece of theatre staged in “no time” in the year 2006, is mesmerizing and a visual treat.

This productions one example of double casting resonates in intriguing ways. The guide to our theatrical experience, The Barker, is played by the same actor (Guy Massey) who portrays The Doctor. The Barker introduces us, the observers, to the artifice of the transformation of hapless Woyzeck (Carlo Garcia) into a soldier from the externals: donning boots, shouldering a gun, learning to follow orders. As The Doctor, he guides (and perhaps misuses) the simple soldier who comes to him for treatment. Immediately we are shown a world in which there is danger at the edges — in many ways evoking the theatre and movie musical based on Isherwood’s Berlin stories of the Berlin between the world wars: “Cabaret”. “Leave your troubles outside”, the M.C. in “Cabaret” invites us — inside, the world is beautiful. The world of the hapless everyman Woyzeck created by set designer Marcus Stephens, costume designer Alison Heryer, lighting designerRachel Damon and sound designer Nick Keenan (generic Nickelodeon-midway-circus sideshow) is of a dusty 19th century big top, with large canvas “walls” separating our players from the mysterious and life threatening screams “outside”. Pin spots highlight action at key intervals, and the big top metaphor extends throughout the play. There is always danger at the edges of this universe – sometimes provided by the unknown, and sometimes provided by the play’s characters, lurking at the edges and peering in through the gaps in the canvas, watching the play’s action. Our story telling is not linear but sequential and repeated. Through this repetition crafted by the adapter Allen we gain some measure of clarity, yet equal measure of confusion. Herein lies our story.

The production introduces a pastiche of themes that are cobbled together in this “out of time” atmosphere: human and animal natives; human as objects of experimentation; individuals blindly objectified by the march of history. This world is out of order, and our Woyzeck is a victim of many events (conscription in the army; medical experimentation) and a victimizer at the same time (his relations with his mistress and mother of his child Marie played by Sarah Bendix). The actors and the designers create a believable and terrifying imaginary world that will haunt you.

This production and story is beset by the perception of evil just outside the parameters of the known universe, the illuminated set, the canvas walls of the circus tent, In the deep dark space at Live Bait Theatre, this grounding theme and perception works fabulously well with this simple set. The characters are continually asking of the strange real or imagined sounds they hear in the distance: “what is it”? We as viewers of this entertainment are compelled to ask the same thing: what is it? If you are comfortable living in between genres, allowing a story to be told and retold and yet have some questions remain for you at the end of the performance, and all the while being aurally and visually entertained by the design of a theatrical adventure, you will not be disappointed by this production.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 12, 2006)

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