Thursday, October 23, 2008

Theater Review (NYC): Woyzeck by Georg Buchner at UNDER St. Marks and BAM:

Let’s compare the two descriptions of the play:

1. A relatively straightforward, conservative staging, with the main innovation being a group of sirens torturing a conflicted, sympathetic Woyzeck into committing his murderous act. A nymphomaniac Marie who is killed by stabbing. Set against the backdrop of the War in Iraq, with “Amazing Grace” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” featured heavily. Virtually flawless execution.

2. A wild, ravenous production by an Icelandic theater troupe, featuring circus theatricals, an industrial set, a beach ball, and a ridiculous use of a pool. Punk rock enfant terrible Nick Cave wrote the music and lyrics (along with Warren Ellis). Marie is played as a conflicted, sympathetic women in a Snow White dress caught in an impossible situation by a suave Drum Major in a purple suit. A pathetic, monkey-like Woyzeck in his underwear, which looks like a diaper. Multiple problems with the sound and crowd control.

30 years ago, the former would have been in the opera house, and the latter in the experimental East Village theater. But comparing these two productions of Woyzeck showed me just how much the public role of experimental theater has changed. Once a haven for daring, wild, and unbridled theater, the East Village and off-off-Broadway have gotten more predictable, safe, and maybe even stale. Meanwhile, mainstream, upper-middle-class, and older audiences are more willing to pay good money to see wild, over-the-top productions by foreign directors. The question that remains is whether this social arrangement, which may be unprecedented in artistic history, is any better or worse than what we’ve had in the past.

2:15 AM