Thursday, November 16, 2017

Theatre AUM: "Woyzeck"

Each performance of German playwright Georg Buchner's Woyzeck at Theatre AUM was unique. -- Left unfinished at his death in 1837 at age 24, Buchner's episodic fragments have since then been arranged and re-arranged and "finished" by a long catalogue of admirers.

In an adaptation by Nicholas Rudall, who encourages directors to arrange the scenes in any way so as "to make their own dramatic coherence", director Val Winkelman has her audiences draw numbers out of a hat to determine that performance's randomly arranged sequence of scenes. -- This arbitrary choice removes any director's guiding principle and with mixed results; so actors must signal the essential plot and thematic issues on the fly, and audiences are left to their own devices to piece together the story as best they can. -- Combining this with Elise Sottile's first-rate circus-themed set, costumes, and make-up designs reminiscent of German expressionism and Fellini-esque baroque manipulation of the political and social worlds, there's a lot to suss out in this version of Woyzeck. -- Everyone has to pay strict attention. There are rewards for doing so.

More concerned with social conditions, the financial and moral divide between the rich and poor, exploitation of the less fortunate members of society that leads to suffering and madness, than with character development and human relationships, Ms. Winkelman's twelve ensemble actors serve Buchner's ideas well.

Led by Kodi Robertson in the title role of a poor young soldier who lives with Marie [Brittany Vallely]  and their illegitimate child, who earns extra cash doing menial jobs for the exploitative Captain [Michael Breen], and is a guinea pig participant in medical/psychological experiments run by the Doctor [Kate Saylor] who puts him on a diet solely of peas that causes him much dismay, the cards are stacked against him. -- When Marie has an affair with the Drum Major [Tony George], and Woyzeck is on the brink of a mental breakdown after experiencing several apocalyptic visions, he stabs Marie to death near a pond and tries to clean the blood from his hands.

Woyzeck has been thoroughly dehumanized by his social superiors; but Buchner never finished the play, so there is no satisfying resolution. Despite this, Woyzeck has never been out of fashion, allowing virtually any culture to view it as a reflection of the world they live in. The play has been lauded for close to 200 years and has influenced many playwrights since its composition.

Theatre AUM's production is challenging, frustrating, entertaining, and provocative, all in the best traditions of educational theatre that exposes AUM students and their audiences alike to some of the most important plays in world theatre.