Tiger at the gates

The Martyrdom of Peter Ohey

By Slawomir Mrozek
Adapted and directed by Aimee Hayes
Vital Theatre Company
432 West 42nd Street (212/529-0129)
Equity showcase (closes August 29)
Review by Jenny Sandman

Slawomir Mrozek is one of Eastern Europe's most famous modern playwrights and satirists, similar in style to Havel and Gombrowicz. Mrozek's plays, of which Tango and Striptease are probably the most famous, are generally absurdist, and are sharp, subtle critiques of the political system at the time. Interestingly enough, even though Communism has fallen, The Martyrdom of Peter Ohey can still be seen as a critique of all overly involved governments, as a struggle of the individual against the presumed rights of the society.

In this adaptation, Hayes has updated the political situation. Now the Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State are involved. Peter Ohey is a normal man, with a wife and three rambunctious children. One morning, a weasely bureaucrat interrupts Ohey's breakfast to announce that a deadly tiger has taken up residence in the Ohey bathroom. "Having a tiger living in the bathroom will affect your future!" he announces, in all seriousness. Apparently, the tiger hides in the hot water pipes or the back of the toilet, waiting for an unsuspecting victim. All sorts of insanity erupts; a government scientist moves into Ohey's daughter's room, a TV producer wants to run a circus reality show (featuring the tiger) inside the apartment, the Department of Education starts sending in schoolchildren on field trips, a Cajun hunter camps out, and the Secretary of State sends a homesick ambassador to shoot the tiger. Ohey must juggle the demands of each of these emissaries, while dealing with his family, the loss of his bathroom facilities, and, more importantly, the loss of his dignity and privacy -- all in the name of the State.

Erik Kever Ryle, as Peter Ohey, was the standout. He was a strong and centered presence, a balance for the swirl of chaos around him. Given the large cast, the ensemble acting was excellent; though some of the individual actors were a bit over the top. Hayes's direction showed a thorough understanding of the script (as well it should have, since she wrote the adaptation); but the songs that bridged the set changes, sung by the cast, should have been cut. The songs was a little folksy and slowed down the pace considerably.

The set (Chelsey Mia LeShay) was just what it should have been: a drab, cramped apartment, with used furniture and no color scheme. The furniture and props were used to great effect. Lighting (Carrie Yacono) and sound (Amy Warren) were not quite as resourceful or inspired, but still worked well with the set.

In all, it was a funny and insightful production, with plenty of food for thought. Not only is the play a funny look at the absurdities of normal everyday life, it's also a scathing examination of government involvement. When the government has so much control over so much of the minutiae of everyday life, where does societal duty stop and individuality begin? Can "patriotism" replace the loss of privacy? Or dignity? Does the government have the right to demand compliance? Even though The Martyrdom of Peter Ohey was written under a totalitarian Communist system, it's even more an indictment of current political trends.

Also with Nina Magnesson, Alex Lemonier, Andrew Lemonier, Rene Ragan, Tom Johnson, Laksh Singh, Kevin Thomas Conroy, Michael B. Downing, Brennan Roberts, and Malinda Walford

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman