“Tonight, I’ll be treating you to some new blood!” cries the MC at the underground wrestling club “The Garage”—heralding the arrival of Binat, the adolescent champion du jour. In the Zagreb Youth Theatre’s muscular, enthralling production, wrestling serves as a motif for a post-communist society plummeting into the violent unknown.
Binat’s vicious, brandy-swilling father—a raging beast, bitter from years of hard labor—coerces his son into fights, pockets the gambling returns from Binat’s against-the-odds victories, and torments his anxious, perpetually bathrobed wife. Completing the social dystopia, a nearby “tourist resort” offers desperate souls the euthanasia of their choice; musical numbers touting its amenities—death by hanging, death by freezing—punctuate the play.
Director Ivica Buljan conjures jarringly lovely images: Binat’s father forcing chocolate into his diabetic mother’s mouth; Binat and his mom playing soccer with a baby doll’s head. Tattered blue wrestling mats are shuffled on- and offstage, marking Binat’s descent through a series of increasingly frightening combats. In the ultimate showdown, he grapples with a snarling Rottweiler, played by a naked actor under strobe lights.
The Garage‘s gritty desperation sometimes gets overwhelming, but the production’s strange, beautiful imagery and its deadpan humor offset the stark social commentary. “Death isn’t the end/It’s just another part of life!” warbles the chorus, cheerfully urging its society toward self-annihilation.