Stephanie Hall, Jay Marie Padilla-Hayter, Jake Minton, & Marc McHone in The Clash of the Woyzecks. Photo: Russell Underwood.
The Clash of The Woyzecks
Adapted from Woyzeck by Georg Büchner by Martin French & the cast
Directed by Martin French
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Based on the true story of a soldier who commits murder, The Clash of the Woyzecks is an elemental conflict of jealousy, betrayal, and madness. Yet it is also a freewheeling adaptation, one that, in typical Martin French fashion, was crafted in collaboration with the cast. Act one is a fairly straightforward take on the story played in a sometimes turgid manner that invites the audience to embrace cliche and stereotype, a comforting subterfuge in that we are lulled into thinking we understand what the play is all about.
But, also not atypical for Martin French, just before the intermission the production takes a turn for the meta and upends the expectations it has carefully built in our minds. After that, the remainder of the evening is a close examination of assumptions in which the intentionally overwrought playing of the first act is critiqued and commented on by the work of the ensemble in the second.
I’ve never read Woyzeck, the famous unfinished play by Georg Büchner (I would hazard to guess that very few have), but director French describes the original text as a series of scenes, the sequence of which is not certain. It sounds like a mess, so why has it proven to be one of the most important theatrical dramas, translated and adapted many times, including films (most notably by Werner Herzog) and at least one opera? It is rumored that Büchner intended a courtroom scene, and the real Woyzeck is cited as the introduction of insanity as a defense in German courts, so one can see the character of Woyzeck as the first psycho killer to fascinate the public, a trend that developed and grew into near-obsession in the 20th century.
So this is primal stuff, but the ensemble, and there is no better word for the unity of the performances on this stage, plays the subtler meta-analysis as nicely as they deliver the broader strokes that precede it. I could go into more detail, but this is the kind of performance where the less you know the better and I am loathe to allow spoilers.
French has also made a reputation for staging theatre in unconventional spaces. Historic homes, church lawns, and here, an art gallery. Kleinhelter Gallery is a white-wall space renovated by artist Ray Kleinhelter and currently featuring PORTRAITS, an exhibit by several local painters and sculptors. It is outstanding work, which makes the company’s accomplishment all the greater because they never allow it to distract from the play. The set and prop pieces are minimal and the costumes follow suit, with a sure use of color and a spare amount of detail.
The Clash of the Woyzecks is a very fresh and contemporary take on a very old tale. It asks questions of the audience, sometimes literally (be prepared for some modest audience interaction), questions that cut to the foundation of our relationship to both popular and highbrow culture. Woyzeck is a classic but also a forerunner to the growing fascination with evil and the darkest side of human nature expressed in a steady stream of movies and television throughout the 20th century and continuing unabated as of this writing. However unconventional the format and structure (and it is really not THAT unconventional) It offers a tidy comparison between trope and introspection, salaciousness and emotional intelligence, all with enough of a nod and a wink to be entertaining.
Featuring Stephanie Hall, Ryan Lash, Marc McHone, Jake Minton, Jay Marie Padilla-Hayter, & Bailey Preston.
The Clash of The Woyzecks
January 18 – 20, 25 – 27, @ 7:30 pm
The Chamber Theatre
701 E. 8th St.
New Albany, IN 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.