Fringe reviews: Woyzeck, The Show Must Go On, Louder, The Lost Book of Miriam

Posted: September 12, 2008

Woyzeck. This brilliant production of Buchner’s Woyzeck is both part of the Fringe Festival and the start of EgoPo’s own festival of Expressionist drama. It’s an impressive launch that promises interesting shows to come.

The venue adds to the atmosphere: The library of the old German Society is a splendid throwback, all wooden staircases and glass-doored bookcases, and the white marble busts of venerable Germans catch the light as they seem to gaze down upon the proceedings.

The title character is a soldier being tormented by the officer he serves, by the doctor using him in an experiment, by his unfaithful wife, by her hot-shot lover. It is never clear whether what we’re watching is “real” or his auditory and visual hallucinations (to label him schizophrenic is to get nowhere). His left hand clenches; something is wrong with his left eye; he is in pain, both physical and emotional. But then, all these desperate characters are. This is a world of unendurable angst.

As Woyzeck, Dan Hodge strikes just the right balance between regular guy and madman; as the Master of Ceremonies, Doug Greene is smarmy, dangerous essence of cabaret; Andrew Gorell as the Doctor and Rob Neddoff as the Captain make characters of these cruel caricatures, and as Marie, Megan Hoke strikes just the balance between slut and madonna. David Sweeny as the Village Idiot is a creepy and pitiable presence, while David Blatt struts around with preposterous phallic arrogance as the Drum Major.

Woyzeck is a famously unstable text - it was found in 1836 in Buchner’s desk drawer in three drafts, with all the scenes out of order - and so each adapter, translator and director has a very free hand. Director Brenna Geffers has used that freedom very well, creating a highly stylized and highly disciplined drama; the set (Daniel C. Soule), a series of red curtains, stages within stages, the superb costumes (Brian Strachan), and the disturbing yet entertaining sound design (Matt Sharp) make it work. - Toby Zinman


$25. 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Wednesday-Sept. 22 and Sept. 24-26; 5 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sept. 21; 10 p.m. Friday and Sept. 25. At the German Society of Phila., 611 Spring Garden St.

The Show Must Go On. Most dance focuses on the performers, but Jerome Bel’s The Show Must Go On is just as much about atmosphere. Bel stops just short of choreographing the audience, but much of one’s experience depends on the mood in the theater.

"I hate it already," a man behind me murmured when the lights went down at the start of Thursday's opening-night performance. Others got restless when a third song started playing and not a soul had stepped on stage.

But once the piece got under way, the audience began to get it - and get into it. The music is everything from Edith Piaf to the Beatles to the Macarena. Bel, who is French, interprets the lyrics literally and often hilariously.

This run marks the first time Bel has set the piece on any but his own performers; the cast is a diverse group of Philadelphia dancers and actors, all dressed in street clothes. Even the tech guy gets into the act, briefly leaving the sound-and-lighting board to jump into a spotlight of his own creation.

There are several sections with no movement in the 90-minute piece, but Thursday’s audience spontaneously filled those gaps, singing along to "The Sound of Silence" and "Yellow Submarine," dancing at their seats, and waving lit-up cell phones like Bics at a rock concert.

The Show Must Go On is not for everyone. Audiences in France stormed the stage and screamed at the dancers. But the familiar soundtrack, broken-down fourth wall of theater and easily accessible dance make it one of the best picks in this year’s Live Arts/Philly Fringe. - Ellen Dunkel


$25. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. At the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, 260 S. Broad St.

Louder. Because it’s a sensory experience that’s essentially a concert in manipulated sound, you’re best off submitting yourself to Louder - to hearing and seeing it, and feeling its vibrations, more than thinking about it. It can be loud in spots - you have the option of wearing earplugs available at the ticket desk - and it can be haunting. It can be self-indulgent, too, in its repetition, as the hour comes to a close.

Members of the Norway-based Verdensteatret play instruments you’ve never seen before - or some, like a window fan, that you’ve never heard in the same way. They pull and slide their fingers on strings that run at eye level across the stage, and with each movement come distorted howls, bleeps, growls, plucks, grunts and groans - all electronic productions. Along with this, movie projections of a pagoda or a possible warship or - who knows? - beam from the rear wall. Art pieces - a skull, skeletal hands - move on strings into a light that throws them into silhouette. Megaphones twirl and boom on the stage floor. It’s all very pre-apocalyptic.

Much of Louder is theatrical performance, because the convincing cast manipulates simple fishing wire to look like they’re producing complex music that Verdensteatret has pre-recorded. In other cases, the players actually create sound when they’re rubbing against, moving bows across and fingering objects attached to contact microphones, which transform vibration into sound. Whatever it is, Louder ends up being oddly, and definitely, musical.

- Howard Shapiro


$25. 10 tonight at the Live Arts Festival Bar, Fifth Street and Fairmount Avenue.

The Lost Book of Miriam. Aliza Bat Rochle's The Lost Book of Miriam wants to make Moses' sister - the one who placed him in the Nile to be discovered by Pharoah's daughter - relevant as a symbol of Mother Earth and the lack of clean drinking water. At Passover seders with a feminist bent, a "Miriam's cup" filled with water sits next to "Elijah's cup" of wine. It's a subtle gesture with great meaning.

In Rochle's less-subtle production, three women pour water from a bucket into a colander, which then drains into a bowl. They next pour the water into a pitcher and a tin tub, scooping some of the tub water into a pewter pitcher to pour into a ewer. The ewer empties into a glass pitcher, then to a decanter, then to two glass goblets, and back into the tub. It next goes into a shot glass, and from the shot glass, into a cocktail shaker, where it is mixed with ice and poured into a wine glass, whereupon one of the women spits into the water and another drinks it.

Sound exciting? Wait, I haven't even gotten to the part where they offer everyone in the audience a cup of water (uh, no thanks), or roll around on the floor in nightgowns, or break into a wymyn's drum circle, or ...  - Wendy Rosenfield


$15. 9 Saturday. The Red Room at Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. 8th St.

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