Imagine a death knell ringing in your ears, one that's heard by no one else. You know from its tolling that catastrophe is imminent, death and destruction certain. But how do you convince others of that? How do your express your dread in terms that will urge them to action that will forestall this cataclysm?
That is the difficulty faced by Vadim, a Ukrainian profoundly troubled by conditions in his homeland and concerned that whatever ruination is soon to descend there doesn't also visit the capital of Texas. He storms into the mayor's office, a wild-eyed prophet in a dusty longcoat, and confronts the head of our fair city with his premonitions of calamity. But precisely what doom Vadim foresees for Austin and what he wants its citizens to do to prevent it prove hard for him to express. His statements seem to circle around the specifics, and even when asked directly by his Austin allies what he means, he responds with words that are oblique, glancing off his intent.
And that is the difficulty faced by audiences attending Dulcey and Roxy at City Hall, the play in which this man from a distant land seeks to save us from ourselves. We know where we are, in that we recognize our city here – it's more corrupt than we tend to think of our town, but quite familiar in its satisfied sense of self and insistence on going its own weird way – but at the same time we don't know where we are. The lack of clarity about Vadim's vision and mission keeps us struggling to locate ourselves in this world of looming crises, to know how seriously to take the alleged threat or who to trust. Noel Gaulin's Vadim strides onto the scene with purpose and projects an unshakable resolve, but that frizzed-out, feral hair exploding from his skull and wild glint in his eyes, along with his restless pacing and low, raspy mumble, also suggest the kind of less-than-stable individual we occasionally encounter on our streets. As the mayor, Judd Farris affects an affable air, as chill as Barton Springs, but then his countenance will tense into a mask of pure business; he'd pave over the aquifer if the deal was right. The ambiguity of the characters' intentions generates some dramatic tension, but it tends to dissipate in the elliptical, disconnected nature of the dialogue. Despite numerous spot-on jokes at Austin's expense and the efforts of director Graham Schmidt and his cast to infuse the proceedings with madcap energy – special credit to Gricelda Silva, whose slacker Dulcey turns ass-kicking militant and spends much of Act Two jumping onto and off of the set's conference room table – playwright Maksym Kurochkin leaves us unsure of his, and our, direction in all this.
But then at one point the action stops, and the author makes an appearance via video. He looks out, speaking directly about what was happening as he wrote the play: the tensions in Ukraine before President Yanukovych chose to turn away from the European Union and toward the Russia of Putin; the subsequent mass protests that forced Yanukovych's ouster and installed a new Ukrainian government; the horrific bloodshed on the streets of Kiev; the revolt in Crimea and its annexation by Russia; the Russian troops massed along Ukraine's border; the fear of war. In this simple message, we can hear that the anxiety and inability to articulate the dangers in the play reflects Kurochkin's own as a Ukrainian fearful for his country's future. It doesn't make the work itself any more cohesive dramatically, but it provides insight into what Kurochkin himself calls "a strange play." And it throws wide the doors of the theatre, reminding us that this ancient arena for make-believe is ever tied to the real world, where sometimes it catches the sounds of war's bells tolling in all their foreboding and confusion.
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