Staged in a rough space, this poor man's tragedy is rough-edged as well
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., June 17, 2011
Space 12, 3121 E. 12th, 972/989-0452
Through June 18
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.
Woyzeck is a curious nugget of a play. Left unfinished by its author, Georg Büchner, when he died in 1837, the fragmentary work has received a variety of treatments and translations over the years. Each company to take on the script imposes on it its own vision and interpretation. Poison Apple Initiative has taken on the challenge of Woyzeck in its latest production.
The company has made the daring choice to stage an unfinished play in what might be considered an unfinished space. Space 12, a multiuse performance and cafe space in East Austin, is not a polished sort of place. It's bare bones and rough around the edges, with a bare ceiling and little room for levels or lighting or much else. The setting is perhaps fitting for a play like Woyzeck, which tells the story of a working-class soldier (Paul Szent-Miklosy) who never quite falls in lockstep with the expectations of his station. He and his young family struggle to make ends meet as Woyzeck suffers the indignities of scraping together pennies each week.
At the same time, the realities of Space 12 also detract from the performance. Chiefly, it's a matter of acoustics and sight lines. Live music from Adam Glasseye Beckley and his band, Reverend Glasseye, accompanies the show, and despite the band matching its levels to the space, often actors can't project out of the playing area, which is ill-defined and inadequately lit. To make a rough, unfinished space work well is a far more difficult thing than it may appear, and Poison Apple has only partway achieved its ambitions.
The production does contain elements of a strong and intriguing vision. The starting point of the script sets up challenges in creating a cohesive story, and Poison Apple's production establishes a clear sequence that moves with appropriate pacing. Director Bethany Perkins pieces together some scenes that are visually arresting: a crowd scene in a bar, a dance between a woman and her lover. It's relatively common in Austin to see a band accompanying a theatre production, and the original music in Woyzeck is excellent, both in its own right and in its ability to capture the tragedy at the heart of the play. Not every actor has the vocal skills to match what the music seeks to convey, but segments – such as the songs sung by Bastion Carboni – suggest most clearly what Poison Apple strives to do in this production: Create a fleshed-out, modern take on an unfinished attempt to capture the tragedy of a poor man's circumstances.