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A CurtainUp Review
The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival
With Reviews of Buchner's Woyzeck and Beckett's First Love
Now in its fifth year, The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival presents new theater from not only across the United States but also around the world. This year's festival runs for 12 days and includes ten productions that come from as close as Brooklyn (County of Kings) and as far away as Korea (Woyzeck). There's old work, new work, and new interpretations of old work.
Because most of the productions are short, it's easy to see two or even three shows in one long and hopefully satisfying day. However, covering them all will take several days.
Written in 1836 by George Buchner Woyzeck was unfinished at the time of the author's death. This has given many enterprising directors almost limitless opportunities to fill in the blanks. It has been given original treatments by the likes of Robert Wilson (with music by Tom Waits), The Gate Theater of London and the Worth Street Theater (in a production called Woah-Jack!).
Sadari Movement Laboratory tells Buchner's story of illicit love, jealously and revenge through emotionally charged movement set to Astor Piazolla's tango music. The dancer/actors stand over, above and next to chairs that are sometimes intricately and effectively arranged to demonstrate the way life has a way of trapping desperate human beings.
What little dialogue director Do-Wan Im has retained is delivered mostly in Korean with a smattering of English. English language projections give a one-sentence explanation of important scenes, but they are so far back on a wall upstage that anyone with less than perfect vision may not be able read them.
Based on an actual murder, Woyzeck is about a low-level soldier who stabs his wife to death in a jealous rage. For those well-acquainted with Woyzeck, Sadari Movement Laboratory's staging is certainly an unusual and original take on the play. Its main virtue is the way it pares down an already minimal script to its emotional core.
For those who have neither read the play nor seen any of its productions, watching this Woyzeck may be a little like searching in the dark for a lost key. You know it's there some place. You can almost catch a glimmer in the distance. You just can't get hold of it.
In First Love, Conor Lovett, under the direction of Judy Hogarty Lovett (artistic directors of Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland), gives an entirely faithful telling of Samuel Beckett's early novella, True Love. To a great extent, Lovett succeeds in holding the audience's attention for the full 75 or so minutes it takes to deliver the story word for word. This is due in part to the confessional nature of the work and in part to Lovett's pitch-perfect portrayal of a passive-aggressive nerd who one suspects would be a serial killer if he had a bit more energy.
First Love is filled with Beckett's black humor, biting irony and gentle reproach. The hero, who dislikes life so much he prefers the smell of the dead, is thrown out of the room (not the house, just the room) his father left him in his will and ends up on a bench by a canal. It is there that he meets the young lady who takes him in, feeds him and sleeps with him only when he is willing.
Some might call this love. But Beckett's hero is not sure. Or perhaps not sure until he loses what he might or might not have had.
The play is a bit long, but given Beckett's heirs' tight control of the author's work, cutting was probably not an option. With this in mind, better more than is actually needed than nothing at all.
Given this sampling of Under the Radar offerings, it appears that the festival is not for the faint-hearted. These are shows that require the viewer to have concentration, thought and imagination.