Theater

Bruckner's Weimar Daze

As the audience files into the Theatorium's airless black box, Stanton Street suddenly intersects with tenement life in 1920s Berlin. Men in caps and suspenders slouch in shadows and cluster around a bar; women gaze out the window and sit dolorously indoors.

Under the corrective lens of social realism, Ferdinand Bruckner's 1928 drama The Criminals portrays young lives during the troubled Weimar Republic, as they move from economic desperation and moral decay to violence and Nazi fanaticism. Though realist in its psychological detail, The Criminals is also laced with expressionistic dialogue and hints of Brechtian epic theater (especially in the trial scenes). Bruckner (1891-1958), a Jewish Austrian playwright-director who wrote under the pseudonym Theodor Tagger, was one of the earliest left-wing intellectuals to warn of rising Nazism. No one escapes corruption; "We're all criminals," as one afflicted woman testifies.

It's a remarkably ambitious revival of a rarely staged play, but unfortunately Ann Crawford Flexner's 1941 translation needs a major overhaul; leaden dialogue and nonsensical locutions weigh down too many scenes. Nonetheless, director Michael Kimmel creates an effective sense of neighborhood and nation in growing crisis; he shows parallel lives by dispersing action across the tiered space. Most of the cast don't quite embody the characters' hardened desperation, despite working to surmount the stilted dialogue. Ryanna Gamble and Tom Escovar, however, capture the fearful disorientation of young people whose hopelessness turns violent—Gamble as a woman coping with betrayal, Escovar as a conflicted Brownshirt.

Given Bruckner's studious realism, it would be easy to place The Criminals back on the library shelf. But its political periscope shows eerily familiar scenes: corrupt institutions breaking down, disaffected youth plotting retribution, authorities in delusion. Bruckner's aesthetic may be rusty, but the crimes go on. —Tom Sellar


Reverend Billy and the Wild Dogman

When patriotism is equated with consumerism and God's on corporate America's side, what's the minister of the Church of Stop Shopping to do? Turns out the Reverend Billy is bewildered on this issue himself, if Other Love (the Ontological) is any indication. Celebrated for his guerrilla-theater ambushes inside your local Starbucks (which featured charming one-acts that included Sex in the Bathroom [Fake Bohemia] and My Love Is a Monsanto Product), the barefoot and pompadoured Rev, a/k/a Bill Talen, asks, "What is peace?" at the outset of his new solo play. It's to his credit that he never gets around to an answer. An anecdote about a nasty sidewalk collision with the Enemy—a capitalist in a double-breasted suit, yakking on his cell phone—provides a pulpit for a rambling rumination on the war in Afghanistan, a surreal lakeside vision of Billy's father, and the coyote that wandered into Central Park in 1999. The hapless animal shape-shifts into a "wild dogman," an image of the Rolex-sporting Other whom Billy is struggling to imagine as a human being with an inner life.

Directed by Tony Torn and Savitri Durkee and featuring witty trombone punctuation by Wayne Walcott, Other Love is front-loaded with target-bomb televangelist shtick, equal parts Bill Clinton and Jim Carrey. But the huckster oil spill soon thins out into a muddied stream of consciousness: A hallucinogenic episode inside the north tower after the plane hit is badly miscalculated, while the Dad interludes add more puzzlement than pathos. The good doctor still pops out some choice one-liners ("Have you got the Cayman Islands in that briefcase?") and keeps returning to that lost, exhausted coyote: something rare and foreign and unsanctioned that needs to be destroyed. —Jessica Winter


Kitchen Confidential

When kids play at superheroes, they tend to stick to the conventional pantheon: Batman, Spider-Man, the occasional Hulk. But leave it to Boy, the gentle protagonist of Oliver Mayer's Young Valiant, to costume himself as the amazing Kitchen-Man. With a tablecloth cape, pie-plate helmet, and spatula sword, Kitchen-Man battles culinary evil—at least until Dad enters for a late-night snack of pepperoni.

Staged as a part of the "Ties That Bind" series at INTAR, Young Valiant finds Boy (Alain Rivas), a gawky 10-year-old desperately curious about masculinity and sexuality, receiving conflicting messages from his Caucasian Dad (Donald Silva) and Latina Mom (Romi Dias). Mayer has a fine way with character; the parents and child are original creations. Scenes in which they perform household tasks—kneading tortillas, handling construction tools—are suffused with a tender realism. But Mayer doesn't trust his characters to emerge through these actions or dialogue. Instead, his script announces that Dad is insecure, Mom fiery, Boy confused. Nor has he provided enough action. Boy's constant questioning and the uncomfortably oedipal moments it occasions don't fill the 100 minutes; nor does the tritely allegorical debate about whether the son should grow up to be a lover (Mom's preference) or a fighter (Dad's).

Director Michael John Garcés attempts to be both. He lets the scenes play out slowly, giving the sensual aspects of food preparation or carpentry their dues. But he also tries to hammer home the few bits of action and over-stresses the scenes of conflict. Perhaps he pushes a bit too much—the actors perform better in the quieter moments than in the intense ones. Much could be remedied were Mayer to provide his work with more dramatic incident and structure. But that's a tough job, likely even out of Kitchen-Man's league. Alexis Soloski

 
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