Woyseck at Space on White in New York

Georg Buchner's Unfinished Masterpiece is Great Theater

By: - Feb 14, 2012

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By Georg Buchner
Directed by Zach Stasz
Produced by Elliott Pruitt
Cast:  Mark Lindberg (Woyseck), Jara Jones (Captain), Adam Adrianopoulos (Andres), Jessica O’Hare-Baker (Marie), Emily Kaplan (Margaret), Ben Leasure (Drum Major), Jes Levine (Showman/Journeyman/Grandma), Evan Maltby (Sergeant/Journeyman/Jew), AJ Ditty (Doctor).
Stasz/Pruitt Productions
Space on White, New York
February 11. 2012 

Stasz/Pruitt was formed four years ago "to air great truths."  The founders point out that life is not simple, and the purpose of art is to reveal the deep, convoluted and various minds and souls of people who journey with us.

One of the great human journeys is Woyseck’s.  Against the romantic thrust of his time, playwright Buchner took an incident from life and wrote a play often heralded as an equal to Hamlet.  Buchner died before his 25th birthday. By then he had written the brilliant Danton's Death, and not quite finished Woyseck.  Composer Alban Berg saw the premier and immediately took it up as an opera libretto.  Today we see the story told more often as opera than as a play. The opera has recently been mounted at the Metropolitan Opera and in Santa Fe. 

In a small theater in Tribeca the original version was directed and acted with consummate skill.  Perhaps because Mark Lindberg is a man about the theater world, not only acting, but directing and teaching too. He permitted himself to sucumb to the tortured title character, moving faster and faster as the world collapses on him. Although he is clearly being driven mad by social forces, Lindberg brings a perplexed personal compassion to the character.

One of the first plays to portray a lower class hero, Woyseck might be held up as a model for movies which have focused primarily on this class, without nearly the subtly and horror suggested by Buchner.  We need more of Woyseck's spirit in the underclass.  At one point, he tells the Officer, "I think if poor people ever got to Heaven, we'd have to help with the thunder."   Jara Jones and Emily Kaplan composed vernacular songs for this production. 

Driven mad by the Doctor’s experiment with a peas-only diet, Woyseck is also pushed to extremes by the world around him. In the opening, he is hallucinating in an open field, away from the society of the town.  He is spouting nonsense about decapitation and death. The play will come full circle to actual murder and suicide.

Woyseck’s tormentors include a pre-Mengele physician who is paying Woyseck to be an experimental guinea pig.  A.J. Ditty plays the doctor like a snake oil salesman seductively pedaling his wares.  His patter and energetic pumping keep a small town and the audience entranced.

Jara Jones is a captain who whips Woyseck around his pinky finger. Ben Leasure as the drum major is the virile, chest-pumping competitor for Woyseck's common law wife and mother of his child.  Jessica O'Hara-Baker in the conflicted role of Marie was simply brilliant, torn as Marie is between affection and concern for Woyseck, maternal concern for their child, and a thwarted sexual desire unleashed by the high stepping Drum Major.

Woyseck is surely for all time. The language and story transcend period. This suggests that the play might be suitable for the minimalist production given here. However, as the play becomes more and more a madly whirling and collapsing representation of the interior of Woyseck's mind, the story cries out for a more surreal visual presentation. The collapsing sets in Santa Fe helped us understand Woyseck's descent into madness and murder. This production was harder to feel with only suggestive boxes forming the set.  Perhaps we had a little too much reality, and too little theater of the absurd and existentialism. Buchner is considered an originator of both styles.

This important and not often mounted play directed and acted across the boards with defining performances provided a wonderful evening of theater.  Keep an eye on Stasz/Pruitt.  They are on to something.