nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
November 5, 2010
The play Woyzeck, written in 1836 by Georg Buchner, is a dark tale of a young soldier's struggles to provide for his family in a culture seemingly designed to guarantee his failure. Buchner based his story on the highly publicized real life trial of Johann Christian Woyzeck, a soldier who murdered his mistress in a fit of rage and exhaustion. Buchner's play is a visceral horror show, focusing on the poverty, classism, and institutionalized dehumanization of the soldier's life. Almost 200 years later, many of the themes laid out in Buchner's tragedy still resonate, and playwright Eric Henry Sanders's Reservoir, which looks at Woyzeck from the point of view of a modern soldier struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an intelligent adaptation, even if it shies away from the brutality of the original.
Reservoir provides a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of Frank Hasek, a soldier stationed stateside after a particularly brutal tour in the Middle East. Step by step, we see the soldier's mental state deteriorate under the pressure to provide for his young family, his trauma-induced "hyper-vigilance," and paranoia. The character is portrayed with sensitivity by Alessandro Colla, who brings an unexpected gentleness to the mechanic. The soldier's young girlfriend and mother of his infant child is played by a well-cast Amanda Dillard, who manages to find the tenderness in what could be an unsympathetic, one-note role. The ensemble cast is where this show comes to life, though, with excellent performances by Nathan Ramos as Frank's self-medicating, meth addict war buddy Andre; the charming Sergeant, played by McKey Carpenter; and the overworked but compassionate Therapist, played with precision and depth by Karla Hendrick. The scene in which the Sergeant confronts the Therapist about sending Frank back to combat is without a doubt the most engaging in the production, and their conversation about Frank's predicament, in which the Sergeant yells "I wish he HAD lost an arm or a leg—then no one would be questioning sending him home with pay!," highlights the tragic Catch-22 of soldiers with PTSD presented in this production.
The production itself runs over two hours with no intermission. The pace of the play is methodical, as if director Hamilton Clancy is laying out a well reasoned argument for Frank's insanity. What the play lacks in tension it makes up for in empathy, but in the end, the horror of the story is undercut by the lack of danger, weakening what was, in the original, the desperate act of a mad man into what is, in this version, a series of unfortunate events leading up to a tragic accident. This is a more thought-provoking, if less gut wrenching, version of the Woyzeck story.
The set, designed by Jen Varbalow, serves the production well by using chicken wire, half doors, and brick to create a sense of poverty and open claustrophobia. The lighting design by Miriam Nilofa Crowe and Chad Lefebvre is especially effective during scene transitions, highlighting Frank's intense mental state. The sound design seems as fragmented as Frank's sanity, with music ranging from eerie violins, to '80s pop, to the repeated use of the same line from Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." I imagine this was done to create a sense of foreshadowing, which was achieved the first time through, but it loses power with each subsequent playing, and by the fourth time the audience hears "My girl, my girl, don't lie to me...," it's ceased communicating.
It takes a certain amount of bravado to adapt a classic into what one hopes will be something beyond the original. Reservoir is an ambitious work, full of beautiful parallels that successfully push the original work in new directions. It is also an important subject, and the play brings a unique perspective to the issue of returning war veterans suffering with PTSD. Hopefully, Reservoir will have the opportunity to reach the large audience it deserves.