Monday, September 22, 2008

This Weekend On Stage

How often do you get to see a Korean B-Boy extreme dance vaudeville onstage? And how surprising is that you enjoy it? Don't get me wrong—there's nothing at all of substance in Break Out: it's stupid-dumb-fun, theatrical junk food: Doritos and bean dip have more nutritional value. But who goes to see a Korean B-Boy extreme dance vaudeville searching for enlightenment? You want to see acrobats flying through the air, dancers spinning on the ground, and lots of G-rated testosterone (PG, for some, I guess: they did sneak a couple of penis jokes into the evening)! The plot (sure, we'll call it that) involves a group of escaped convicts on the run from the law but in reality it's just a bunch of site gags (there's almost no dialogue in the evening) and traditional vaudeville skits (they eventually wind up in a hospital where Hilarity Ensues) between the dance breaks. Fortunately, the dancers are fantastic, the pace is quick, the shtick is amusing: it's really a lot more fun than I would ever have expected.

In Conflict, by contrast, is an intense evening. The script is adapted from interviews that Yvonne Latty conducted with Iraqi War veterans for her 2006 book of the same title. Each of the stories on their own are heart-breaking; taken as a whole, they are almost overwhelming. Regardless of whether their wounds are physical or psychological, it's abundantly clear that our society has much to do to truly support our troops. The production is absolutely engaging and absolutely irritating at the same time: while the stories themselves are riveting, Douglas C. Wager's direction is heavy-handed and undercut some of the power of the words. The script, also by Wager and Latty, does a good job of distilling the interviews down to well-structured five-minute monologues but there are too many of them and the evening becomes a little numbing in the second act: it would have made an excellent 90-minute one-act. The playwrights' choice to include occasional commentary from Latty on video was also unsuccessful: it took me out of the play and attempted to contextualize stories that actually stood on their own very well. The actors do a decent job with the material: they give very naturalistic and, for the most part, understated performances. After the show, it felt odd walking out of the Barrow Street Theater and into the throngs of young partiers in Greenwich Village; as Catherine said, "How must it make these young veterans feel to return home and encounter all of this?"

We ended our weekend with Irena's Vow by Dan Gordon, based on the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who was forced to work for a high-ranking German officer during the occupation of Poland. While serving as his housekeeper, Irena hid twelve Jewish Poles in the basement of the German officer's villa for about two years and saved them from certain death in the concentration camps. After marrying and emigrating to the U.S., she told no one about her wartime experiences until many years later when she received a telephone call as part of survey about holocaust denial; as a result, she began going to schools and sharing her story with the students. The play is a fairly straightforward, chronological presentation of her life story: Tovah Feldshuh, as Irena, narrates as though addressing one of those school groups and key scenes are re-enacted by the cast. It's not an especially inspired approach to the material but the story alone certainly sustains this tightly-paced 90-minute piece. The acting is uniformly strong: Feldshuh is quite a presence onstage and does a good job of shifting back and forth between the monlogues and the flashback scenes. It's also a very well-designed show—our friend, David Castaneda, did a great job with the lighting and he had high words of praise for the video design by Alex Koch and I have to agree: both the content and the execution of the projections were exceptional.

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