Directed by Jeremy Duncan Pape
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“When you’re poor like us sir … It’s the money, the money! If you haven’t got the money … I
mean you can’t bring the likes of us into the world on decency. We’re flesh and blood. Our
kind doesn’t get a chance in this world or the next. If we go to heaven they’ll put us to work
on the thunder.” – Woyzeck to the Captain in “Woyzeck, FJF”
What if – instead of drowning while trying to dispose of the knife he used to murder his unfaithful wife – Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck ended up in an insane asylum wondering why he was there and what it was he had done to result in his hospitalization? And what if the things Woyzeck actually wondered, questioned, and imagined were instead surmised, evaluated, and fantasized by his army mate Andres? There is no need to guess any longer for this is what occurs in Jeremy Duncan Pape’s and D. L. Siegel’s clever retelling of Georg Buchner’s unfinished play “Woyzeck” currently running at the New Ohio Theatre. The adapters (really they are playwrights) attempt to finish what Buchner’s death in 1837 left unfinished with their inventive “Woyzeck, FJF.”
Instead of the multiple settings of Buchner’s play, there is only one setting: the “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” insane asylum which brilliantly serves as a trope for Woyzeck’s inner life as he attempts to come to terms with his poverty and his hopelessness. Alfred Schatz has designed a space that serves stunningly as Woyzeck’s inner sanctum of thoughts, fears, memories, and hopes. From this inner world, Woyzeck “plays out” the scenes with Marie (Evangeline Fontaine) at her home, with The Drum Major (Mackenzie Knapp), with The Doctor (Alessandro Colla) who pays Woyzeck to participate in his medical experiments, with Andres (Isreal McKinney Scott), and with The Captain (Jason Wilson) who also pays Woyzeck.
Under Jeremy Duncan Pape’s diligent and exacting direction, the ensemble cast – in an extended dream ballet – splays the contents of Woyzeck’s disheveled and unraveling mind in a series of surreal “paintings” and “videos” that engage the audience in significant ways. Indeed, it is the rich and enduring questions “Woyzeck, FJF” raises that emerge from the performance that linger and await “answers” long after the curtain call. How does the political climate of Woyzeck’s time compare/contrast to the contemporary political climate? How can individuals living in poverty hope to achieve success? Do religions offer hope to the poor or simply expose dysfunction of the culture of wealth?
James Kautz’s well-modulated Woyzeck is the perfect canvas for Everyman to project her or his “troubles” upon. Mr. Kautz skillfully crawls, dances, crouches, and cries to the beat of the tormented Woyzeck whose desperation leads him to destroy rather than follow his creative spirit and lash out rather than embrace his thoughtful nature. Woyzeck is cautioned that to “think too much” is less than ideal since “people die of it.” Mr. Kautz’s portrayal of Woyzeck is stark, authentic, and honest.
In Buchner’s play, Woyzeck is silenced by accidental death. In this adaptation, Woyzeck is silenced by a frontal lobotomy, eyes bleeding from the procedure, doomed to live out his days in a state of stupefaction and emptiness. How like Woyzeck might the contemporary Everyman be? All of the institutions of society – political, religious, and medical – fail Woyzeck miserably. “Woyzeck, FJF” leaves the audience wondering whether much has changed at all. One also wonders if, when in heaven, the poor will still be remanded to “work on thunder.”