BOTTOM LINE: intense and relevant, acutely and successfully executed.
Counting Squares Theatre is a new company whose mission involves making theatre that deals with the human condition. Their newest piece, Woyzeck, exposes the touchy subject of a soldier returning home from war and dealing with severe post-traumatic stress. It's poignant and thought-provoking, with enough of a performance-art edge to make the production unique and distinct.
Franz Woyzeck comes home to his wife and baby after some time fighting abroad (presumably in Iraq), but finds he can't reintegrate himself with society. He hears voices and begins to act on what the voices instruct. He gradually begins to self-destruct until he loses his mind completely; the voices take over and he is no longer the functioning man he used to be. He doesn't have access to adequate medical care and resources so he can't get the help he needs.
Woyzeck was written in the mid-1800s by Georg Büchner. It has been adapted many times since, and it works well in the present time because we're stuck in a war that is leaving veterans with problems both physical and mental, without appropriate options for recovery. This production is staged to be in the current time. The script translates seamlessly to the 21st century, although the text is evocative of a couple of centuries ago; it's more formal, almost poetic in its verbage. It's a more sophisticated way to hear a play and the production feels somewhat traditional because of it.
The truly impressive thing about this staging is that it's is really a play with music. The chorus performs Andrews Sisters' songs throughout, with the main trio of singers as the "voices" in Woyzeck's head. They are dressed in eerily dark makeup and tattered dresses that still seem feminine and playful. The songs performed include "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Miss Otis Regrets" and the contrast between the depressing reality of Woyzeck's downward spiral and the upbeat harmonies of these tunes makes a beautiful contradiction. The Andrews Sisters' music was popular during World War II, as an escape from the desolate realities of life during wartime. To tell this tragic story with this music as a backdrop creates a dichotomy that brings to life the pain the characters experience.
Director Joshua Chase Gold does a fine job of weaving in and out of dramatic scenes and song-and-dance breaks in which the cast turns on the charm and performs out to the audience. The structure of the play is easy to follow and kept my attention, although there isn't an intermission. It's a unique way to tell this story and with actors who are all extremely capable of executing a show like this with two faces, it's an interesting theatrical experience. Plus, Woyzeck performs at Under St. Marks which feels like an underground bunker, so the experience becomes even more visceral. I'm not sure audiences who prefer mainstream theatre will jump on board right away, but I think Woyzeck is a effective and entertaining play. I definitely recommend it for theatre fans who like avant-garde productions and unique adaptations.
(Woyzeck plays at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, until October 29th. Show times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm. For tickets visit horseTRADE.info or call Smarttix at 212-868-4444.)