The inferno within


By Georg Büchner
Translated by David Knauf
Directed by Victoria Pero
Presented by Monster(less) Actors
Currican Theatre
154 West 29th St. (462-9279 - call for schedule)
Equity Showcase (closes May 15)
Review by Doug DeVita

Monster(less) Actors, having achieved success with post-modern playwrights such as Jeffery M. Jones, Constance Congdon, and Caryl Churchill (their production of Congdon's Tales of the Lost Formicans won a 1998 OOBR Award, and Churchill's The After Dinner Joke was named one of the top 10 productions of 1998 by INTheatre Magazine), have now gone back to where it all began with an electrifying new adaptation of Woyzeck, the third and final work of the father of post-modernism, Georg Büchner.

An unrelentingly violent and morbid exploration of an illiterate soldier's life and death, Woyzeck has been called the first truly modern classic. Left in fragmented, unfinished form at Büchner's death in 1837, the play is a remarkable reaction against the extravagant romanticism of the period; preoccupied with inner psychological realities rather than a physical, linear narrative, it anticipated the German expressionistic movement of the 1920s by over 80 years.

Shifting back and forth between locations real and imaginary, delving into frightening territory both inside and outside its characters' minds, Monster(less) Actors' production of Woyzeck was less an easy, breezy evening at the theatre than an intense 90 minutes that demanded complete concentration from its audience. Director Victoria Pero attacked the piece with a theatricality that thrilled even as it ripped through the skin with its uncompromising view into a hopeless hell of human degradation. The ensemble was flawless - even the risky decision to cast a woman in the title role paid off. Although Jeanine Serrales's transformation from eager-to-please soldier to frustrated, crazed murderer was rather abrupt, her delicate stature and the dogged determination she invested in the role ultimately brought a heartbreaking sense of tormented futility to the hapless, betrayed Woyzeck. It was an exquisite interpretation. As Marie, Woyzeck's faithless mistress, the voluptuous Claire Shafer combined smoldering sexuality with a detached, defeated attitude to shattering effect. This Marie knew she was doomed, and despite her love of life, didn't care. Mark Rimer used his commanding presence and rich voice to great advantage in a variety of roles, particularly as the buffoonish, self-absorbed Captain of Woyzeck's regiment, as did Jeffery Biehl as the callous doctor who uses Woyzeck as guinea pig for a variety of medical experiments. The rest of the cast was merely exemplary.

Pero had incredible support from her design team as well. The whole production had the look of a Hogarth drawing come to haunting, vivid life. Meganne George's set captured the play's bleakness with a spare but telling elegance, Chris Field's costumes were a riot of period color and character, and Rychard Curtiss's lighting anchored the evening with its pin-point attention to detail, as did the exciting, almost continuous musical score (Jerome Begin) and sound design (Mark Huang).

With its gutsy, intelligent direction, searing performances, and bold visual imagery, this production of Woyzeck was an exhausting, horrifying, and ultimately exhilarating experience. While not for everybody, it should be required viewing for anyone who has an interest in state-of-the-art theatre at any level.

(Also featuring Jef Awada, Juniper Berolzheimer, Matt Frederick, and Jeremy Hollingworth.)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita