nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
January 10, 2009
Chairs are the dominant image—and only scenery—in the Sadari Movement Laboratory's innovative production of Woyzeck, a selection in this year's Under the Radar Festival.
The Sadari Movement Laboratory emphasizes the kinetic power of the actor, and Woyzeck showcases the troupe's thrilling use of movement. There are no props, no sets, no costumes. The actors wear simple, identical uniforms of black pants and tanks. Using only their bodies—and ten white chairs—the troupe tells the story of Woyzeck's descent into madness with harrowing intensity.
The play begins within a Brookian empty space—on a bare stage whose only adornment is a white chair. Six actors enter. They stare at the chair cautiously, almost as if they're afraid to step closer. Then, one actor lifts up the chair. The others grab on, and tear it apart. The stage is filled with movement as the cast lunges and leaps while wielding pieces of wood. Then, the actors run back to the center and try to put the chair back together, but they can't. They drop the pieces to the ground in a discordant crash. Blackout.
When the lights come back on, we're in the familiar first scene of Woyzeck, when the Captain taunts the hapless title character, a poor soldier. Only the way it's staged by director/troupe founder Do-Wan Im and his company, the scene's not so familiar. The stage is full of actors, each one holding a chair and banging it onto the ground, each one in turn playing the role of the taunting Captain. Woyzeck, played with bemused horror by Jae-Won Kwon, scurries across the stage, taking a chair and moving it to a new position, as if he's a human machine. Under the Captain's taunts, he moves faster and faster until nearly collapsing in despair and exhaustion. It's an apt physicalization of the scene's emotional resonance. And that's the goal of the Sadari Movement Laboratory: to physically embody the play's meaning.
This philosophy alone would make Sadari different, but what makes them truly outstanding is how unexpectedly they use movement and actors' bodies to create an entire landscape. A circus is represented by actors one-handedly twirling chairs with the nonchalance of plate-spinners. The voices in Woyzeck's head are brought to life by actors who place their heads on the chairs' seats, eerily evoking a chorus of the disembodied. The kiosk where Woyzeck buys a knife is created by actors positioned in such a way that they look like an angry, multi-armed Hindu god. Each stage picture is disorienting and beautiful, punctuated by blackouts to mark seamless scene transitions.
The dialogue is mostly in Korean, but, to help English-speaking audiences, a few key lines in each scene have been translated into English. The program mentions surtitles, but don't expect a word-for-word translation; these titles are actually just the scene headings and a short summary of the scene's action. Some audience members found this confusing, but really, the emotional intensity of Sadari's movement needs no translation.