(“Woyzeck” plays at The Ashby Stage in Berkeley from November 29 through January 13.)
Although written 175 years ago, and unfinished when the author died, Georg Buchner‘s “Woyzeck” is considered a theatrical classic. It was highly original in its day, dealing with social issues such as the effects of poverty and the injustice of class. It also attracted attention because it was based on a real person, Johann Christian Woyzeck, who was executed for the murder of his lover. The case was significant because it is the first time in the history of German jurisprudence that insanity was presented as a defense.
Throughout the 20th century, many writers have reworked Buchner’s unfinished sript. There has been an opera, multiple films, even a puppet show. Generations have discovered in Woyzeck a decent everyman driven mad by the demands of an unjust society.
Robert Wilson conceived the idea of a musical to be composed by the wondrous husband and wife team of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, which was first successfully produced in Copenhagen in 2000 and was later brought to New York.
The current revival at Shotgun Players in Berkeley is a stunner. Waits’ and Brennan’s score, very appropriately reminiscent of Kurt Weill, is fantastic and beautifully performed by a polished band under the direction of David Moschler who knows exactly how to handle this material.
Alex Crowther is a handsome, gentle, innocent seeming Woyzeck surrounded by surreal representatives of the social order who torture him in peculiar ways. Anthony Nemirovsky has an excellent comic turn as an army captain making endlessly ridiculous demands and Kevin Clarke is even more bizarre as a doctor conducting absurd experiments on the hapless Woyzeck. As Woyzeck’s sanity begins to slip, he is comforted by his friend Andres (the charismatic Kenny Toll), who encourages him to “keep a diamond in your mind”. When his beautiful lover, Marie (Madeline H. D. Brown), confused by Woyzeck’s peculiarities and overwhelmed by the care of their infant, gives in to the seduction of Joe Estlack’s dancing Drummer, Woyzeck’s violent response comes on with the inevitability of Greek tragedy.
The first rate cast and excellent direction of Mark Jackson serve the play well and tell the story with perfect clarity. What is most unforgettable, though, is the fantastic score. It is some of Waits’ and Brennan’s very best work, just about perfect of its kind. One song after another bursts forth with melodic invention, poetic lyricism and emotional truth, thrillingly delivered. The result is an emotional roller coaster that proves enormously satisfying. After the stunning prologue, “Misery’s The River of the World”, the music moves from strength to strength. There is not a single moment, musical or dramatic, that fails to hit its mark.
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“Woyzeck” by Georg Buchner, adapted by Ann-Christin Rommen & Wolfgang Wiens, music and lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, original concept by Robert Wilson, produced by Shotgun Players and directed by Mark Jackson. Musical Director: David Moschler. New orchestrations created collectively by the band. Set Design: nina Ball. Costume Design: Christine Crook. Light Desig: Clyde Sheets.
Karl, an idiot: Andy Alabran. Marie: Madeline H.D. Brown. Doctor: Kevin Clarke. Woyzeck: Alex Crowther. Drum Major: Joe Estlack. Captain: Anthony Nemirovsky. Carnival Announcer: Josh Pollock. Andres: Kenn Toll. Margaret: Beth Wilmurt.
Band (Bob Starving and the Whalers):
Cory Wright, Josh Pollock, David Moschler, Ami Nashimoto, and Travis Kindred.
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