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.

Location Info


Howard Gilman Opera House

30 Lafayette Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Brooklyn


By Daniil Kharms; adapted by Darryl Pinckney
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

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.