Doris Lynch of the Herald-Times saw our current production of Woyzeck and had good things to say about the play. Through the courtesy of the newspaper, we reprint her review here:
A deadly diet of peas: IU presents a very different soldier story
The upper classes go to war to experience how it feels to be alive, while the poor join the military in order to live. In an imaginative and visually stunning production directed by Paul Daily, Clayton Gerrard sympathetically portrays the poor soldier, Woyzeck, who is mistreated by his superiors and even by the beautiful woman, Marie (Emily Harpe), whom he loves. Gerrard’s performance as the affable, do-anything-to-survive-soldier is nuanced, wide-ranging and powerful.
The production captures the great divide between classes by having the commanders strut on stilts across the stage. The fine cast made believable the playwright’s vision, often spoken in poetic language, of a dark world where the poor don’t have the luxury of either morals or virtue. Although written a century and a half ago by a young medical student, the play’s themes seem incredibly modern: forced medical experimentation upon the poor, the class divide, a baby raised outside of marriage and powerful men taking advantage of women for sex.
Thursday night, this played out upon Bridgette Dreher’s beautiful set with its copse of trees, walkways bordered with weeds and grass and two separate performance spaces, one depicting a barracks and a forest, the other Marie’s house and the tavern. Kameron Johnson’s sound brought the feel of both tavern and barracks to life.
Daily’s staging emphasizes the powerful military brass staring down at those they control. Oozing with evil superiority were the Drum Major (Joe Cadiff) and Sergeant Schmidt (John Putz). In fact, if anything the soldiers they portrayed seemed too malevolent. They gave off no sparks of kindness or humanity. But speaking of evil, none demonstrated more than Franz Christian August Clarus. Jacob Duffy Halbleib made convincing the fast-talking, Latin-spieling doctor who had no scruples about how much his medical experiments damaged his patients. He limited Woyzeck to a diet of only peas. This eventually drove the soldier mad.
First you wonder what the affable-seeming Woyzeck is snacking upon, but soon the peas he consumes become pellets that he tosses angrily across the stage or rains down over other characters. What Gerrard does masterfully is show the downward arc of a soldier struggling to get by, ignoring taunts by his masters, to a man crazed by poor nutrition to finally fight and risk all.
Katie Gruenhagen’s dramatic lighting design transformed IU’s Wells Metz into a cavernous space, full of black and white light. Daily made a very interesting directorial choice by keeping touch at a distance. This becomes obvious at the beginning, when Woyzeck hurriedly shaves Captain Alexander (Mauricio Miranda) from 15 feet away. Even dancing, the couples whirl apart.
Although a tragedy, this play offers brief respites of humor, particularly when Zack Trinkle appears as a Traveling Showman with his energetic, delightfully counting horse, Maya Ferrario. And heard hooting long before he spider-crawls onstage, Anthony O’Donovan’s monkey further highlights the small divide between animal and human. Designed by Barbara Harvey Abbott, the costumes transport us to a 19th-century small German town. Particularly striking were her spare, but on-target dramatic accents: an elongated facial cage and two brassy-looking metallic hooves that allowed Ferrario to stomp in true equine fashion.
This production leaves you with as many questions as answers, but as compelling theater, it’s certainly worth the price of a ticket.
If you go
WHAT: “Woyzeck” by Georg Buchner.
WHO: Indiana Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.
WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.
TICKETS: $10-$25. Available in person at the IU Auditorium Box Office, online at theatre.indiana.edu, or at the door beginning one hour before any performance.