A Masterful Variety Act, The Old Woman Is a Dreamlike Diversion

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe make a high-octane pair of razzle-dazzlers

A Masterful Variety Act, <I>The Old Woman</I> Is a Dreamlike Diversion
Lucie Jansch
Willem Dafoe (on left) and Mikhail Baryshnikov make a high-octane pair of razzle-dazzlers.

Vaudeville has long been an essential element in director Robert Wilson's multi-layered creations, but rarely as much as in The Old Woman. In this international coproduction now at BAM, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe make a high-octane pair of razzle-dazzlers. In white pancake makeup and suits, they clown, shuffle, dance, and shriek. But the duo's nonstop antics hinge on existential disorientation rather than light entertainment: They prance along a knife's edge of metaphysical pain.

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Howard Gilman Opera House

30 Lafayette Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Brooklyn

Details

By Daniil Kharms; adapted by Darryl Pinckney
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
718-636-4100
bam.org

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In this stage adaptation of Daniil Kharms's surrealistic 1939 novella, Dafoe (yammering in English) and Baryshnikov (speaking Russian) are twin halves of a protagonist desperately coping with the inexplicable presence of a woman's corpse in his flat. (He eventually puts it in a large suitcase and departs on a train; what happens to it after that is a mystery.) Wilson evokes his reeling mind in an astonishing array of hues and tones, shifting frames with each scene. The director's sublime visuals — giant birds, photos of prisoners, a silhouette forest of jagged trees — form in relation to a magnificently manic soundscape by Hal Willner. Dafoe and Baryshnikov give wonderfully exacting performances; their frenzy is our sheer pleasure, even though anguish lurks underneath. Wilson offers few narrative anchors, so the 12 sequences don't have much cumulative power. But that doesn't necessarily matter: The Old Woman is a masterful variety act more than a drama, and it turns dark consciousness into a dreamlike diversion.

 
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