Thursday, November 08, 2012


The Illyrian Players present
by Georg Buchner
adapted and directed by Jaymie Bellous

review by Phillip Kelly

The play Woyzeck is simple. And in that simplicity it touches upon the complexities of human nature: love, dishonesty, jealousy, madness, revenge – but which of these is real and which is imagined. The title character, Woyzeck, is prodded and pushed, teased and twisted around backwards until the audience doesn’t know if what we’re seeing is what he thinks may be happening or what actually is happening. It’s a story of a man who sells his soul piece by piece to make a little money to give to his mistress who has a child, and in doing so becomes less of a man.

Presented by the Illyrian Players, the director, Jaymie Bellous, has taken the extra step to emasculate Woyzeck by casting a woman, Emma Hawley. Of the cross gender casting I’ve seen in Los Angeles, this is one of those that makes sense and thematically is effective. But that isn’t the only surprise! The director has incorporated the art of clowning. Two silent chorus clowns are interspersed throughout the show, in between scenes, sometimes to highlight the absurdity, other times to mirror a theme or emotion, and finally to simply and cleverly get a prop into one of the actors hands. The other actors, too, are made up to appear slightly clown like. This helps sell the cross genderizing and adds a level of absurdity and surrealism to the proceedings (two things I like most.) She’s tied it into a bow with haunting music and sound design (Sinan Zafar) and lighting schemes (Jennifer Hill). As an audience member, we’re supposed to perhaps feel Woyzeck’s madness, and when the production is at its most effective, we do. And when all the ideas don’t quite connect, well, it’s never, not interesting.

Overall the cast is game and quite good. Madeline Harris as Marie, Woyzeck’s mistress, is a natural – she captures all the commitment, desires and confusions that live within a woman. Gerard Marzilli playing the Drum Major is one of the few men in the show and he rages with masculinity in a way that truly offsets Hawley’s performance and demeanor.

While tonally the landscape was effective, the final moments of the show – the tragedy - didn’t command my attention or emotional involvement as much as I would have wanted. The words were said, the action is taken and, unfortunately, this to me is one of those instances where the production fell short. At times it seemed like a little more effort was directed towards the world the characters inhabited than grounding the character’s emotionally in the situation. Hawley, while effectively cast, doesn’t always convey the growing madness, desperation and anxiety that drives Woyzeck, at least as well as the design team was able to do with the environment around her. At other times some of the performances didn’t always flow emotionally from one instance to the next – like there’s a thought missing in the performance that would get us to the next step. Part of it could be simply that it was a highly stylized show. Part of it could be, as a lot of productions struggle with this in Los Angeles*, a lack of dress and final rehearsals. There’s enough talent on stage that I have no doubt these missing beats will be filled in as the actors become more comfortable.

Overall, Bellous has found an interesting and effective way to tell the story of Woyzeck, even if the show doesn't quite live up to its own ambitions, at least everyone involved should be proud that they had such high ambitions; a character trait I’m always pleased to see in artists and their theatre companies.

*This comment is not to be seen as a disparagement against the show or Illyrian. Having been an Artistic Director and director of many productions in LA, when you're working on a budget, you're contending with other rentals in the space you're at. It's a simple and oft times frustrating reality. The fact that Illyrian and Bellous pulled off as much as they set out to do, is a testament to the talent involved.

Woyzeck presented by The Illyrian Player 
Performances: FRIDAY - SUNDAY, November 2nd - 18th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Location: The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90038
All Tickets are $10

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