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EgoPo’s ‘Woyzeck’ (2nd review)BY: Jim Rutter 09.23.2008
Between them, director Brenna Geffers and Dan Hodge create a terrifying atmosphere that builds up slowly in intensity, forcing you to confront your despair and question your faith in humanity. I doubt that even Barack Obama would find any hope in this production.
Woyzeck. Drama by Georg Büchner; translated by Nicholas Rudall; directed by Brenna Geffers. Presented by EgoPo through September 26, 2008 at German Society of Pennsylvania, 611 Spring Garden St. (800) 595-4849 or http://www.egopo.org.
Suffering without end (or even religion)JIM RUTTER
The current Wall Street Crisis has prompted some financial analysts to argue that “the world as we know it is going down.” (For example, click here.) Walking by Broad and Chestnut the other day, I heard Lyndon LaRouche supporters threatening a similar fate. No matter what happens, there’s always someone who believes that civilization is in decline.
In his play Woyzeck, Georg Büchner similarly portrays a world in which everyone’s going mad, and the constant refrain of “What kind of world is this?” finds the constant rejoinder: “One that’s going to hell.” When Woyzeck (Dan Hodge) weighs in on the matter, he tears at his shirt and stares into the hollow of his chest while muttering despairingly, “Every man is an abyss, and when you look down, it gets dizzy.” At least Büchner doesn’t mince words.
Büchner, at least, had good reasons for despair. Young people of his post-Napoleonic era found themselves growing up in the emerging nation-states, powerful vehicles for group identity that eventually militarized an entire generation of young men. Combine this with the Enlightenment’s mechanized world-view of “bodies as collections of ducts and fluids,” and you find Büchner consigned to a very dehumanizing universe indeed. It’s no wonder that the soldier Woyzeck begins the play on the edge of madness, his auditory, tactile and visual hallucinations all outbursts of a suppressed individual passion in a world trying to eliminate it.
A circus act of Enlightenment ideals
But in EgoPo’s current production, Büchner owes a good deal of the clarity of his intentions to director Brenna Geffers. She takes Büchner’s unordered and incomplete scenes and gives them a brilliant conceptual unification as a circus act of Enlightenment ideals. With the aid of Daniel C. Soule’s stage design, Doug Greene’s cruel showman flawlessly leads the audience— onstage soldiers as well as off-stage patrons—through each scene as a sideshow.
Telling us that “Nothing on this earth will last,” Greene displays nature’s most dreaded creature (man); and in a glass jar, he exhibits our cherished imaginary object: the human soul.
EgoPo’s richly textured production— both erotic and violent— proceeds to mount a series of portraits, enhanced by varied physical gestures and nuances of intonation. Megan Hoke (as Woyzeck’s cheating lover Marie) is absolutely extraordinary, and John Musarra’s dreamlike lighting wraps her adulterous affairs behind a gauze that barely hides the burning skin underneath. Although director Geffers structures Woyzeck in the make-believe world of the circus, the performances render the story so vivid that no one can escape the sense of dread and despair that permeates this production.
A woman in the audience flinched
Because in Büchner’s play, all of society conspires to make Woyzeck suffer. Andrew Gorell’s creepy doctor tells him, “Man is the perfect example of the individual desire for freedom,” while experimenting on him to produce a revolution in science. Woyzeck’s commanding officer (Rob Neddoff) bullies Woyzeck for his lack of virtue, and John Bellomo’s vicious fight choreography makes it hard to believe that David Blatt’s Drum Major isn’t actually pummeling him to a pulp.
Under the weight of this pressure, Hodge as Woyzeck descends into madness. As he tapped on his skull, his hands trembling as he gripped at nothing in the air, I watched Hodge but felt Woyzeck’s horror. While I felt crushed emotionally, a woman two rows in front of me actually recoiled and flinched when he leveled a pistol at the audience and pulled the trigger— she, at least, believed him capable of the murder that ends the play.
Between them, Geffers and Hodge create a terrifying atmosphere that builds up slowly in intensity, the kind of debilitating theater that forces you to confront your despair and question your faith in humanity. I doubt that even Barack Obama would find any reason for “hope” in this production.
‘Thirty years left’
Nevertheless, Büchner punctuates his script with notes of humanity’s potential for compassion and tenderness. While Woyzeck begs god to choke off the dark side of his human-animal nature, he does find some consolation from his friends.
But ultimately, when individuals confront a society in which “everything rots and stinks” even as they persist in believing that “the world is beautiful,” not even the sermons of Büchner’s ministers and virtuous military leaders can stem the tide of despair and madness. EgoPo’s production created such a horrible world that this atheist, at least, found himself lamenting the decline of religion in the world.
“You’ve got thirty years left,” the captain asks Woyzek. “What are you going to do with all that terrible amount of time?” Similarly, his doctor asks, “Don’t you want to be anything more than just dust, sand and clay?”
These are tough questions in today’s world as well, and the best type of theater makes us realize that we still must answer them.♦
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