Woyzeck Redux and Reduced
by Harvey Perr
Gate Theatre London
at St. Ann's Warehouse, DUMBO (Brooklyn)
now through December 3, 2006
It is totally understandable why any serious director worth his salt would want to tackle that harrowing howl of
helplessness, Georg Buchner’s unfinished masterpiece “Woyzeck.” It is, after all, the play that, more than any other, has
influenced such disparate masters of avant-garde theatre as Brecht and Beckett. Why, however, would anyone, whose future seems to lie in
musical comedy, want to direct “Woyzeck”? That is the question posed by the Gate Theatre London production which has come to St. Ann’s
Warehouse for a limited engagement. Mind you, Daniel Kramer, the wunderkind who adapted and directed the play, clearly has a brilliant
future in the theatre, one that should be watched with care and great interest. There is a voluptuous abundance of signs of
extraordinary talent scattered across the cavernous space in which his version takes place. But, finally, after giving the director and
his star, Edward Hogg, the ovation they deserve, we leave the theatre in a state of puzzlement. Is what we saw “Woyzeck”?
The first image is arresting. From a distance, Woyzeck is seen on a tricycle, burdened by some weight, which turns out
to be his fellow soldier, Andres. A sense of heaviness and darkness seems to be moving toward us as the tricycle wends its way in a huff
and a puff. So far, so good. Close up, Woyzeck resembles, in Neil Irish’s costume design, not so much a humble soldier mired in stasis
as Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull, a bellhop on the go. Well … the image at least remains Teutonic and Everyman-ish. Okay, so this Woyzeck is
running towards his fate, not slogging towards it. Fair enough.
It is also true that as society encroaches upon and finally destroys Woyzeck, he has encounters with a series of
archetypes, but, in Kramer’s vision, these become less archetypical and more caricature-driven. Along the way, too, we hear less of
Buchner’s text and more of Elvis Presley’s recordings – some of it surprisingly effective, to be sure – and shot through with eclectic
contributions from Dolly Parton to Beethoven, among others. The battle with his nemesis, the Drum Major, who has seduced his beloved
Maria, becomes a dance, intense and hot, but a little too carefully choreographed by Ann Yee. The murder of Maria, which seals his fate,
is poetic and bloodless. All of this is lit with an impeccable eye for the striking image by David Howe, who may be Kramer’s most
effective collaborator. And, even though he seems a curious choice in terms of his energy and his physicality, Edward Hogg’s Woyzeck is
fascinating to watch in the evening’s single successful fusion of the original material and the Kramer style.
If you want to discover a major directorial talent and to be entertained by “Woyzeck” as you never imagined you would
be, rush to St. Ann’s Warehouse immediately. If you want to be moved and disturbed by one of the most influential plays in the history
of world theatre, you had better wait for a serious director to tackle it again.