nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
October 18, 2007
A well-groomed man with a suitcase walks into an open and rustic space populated with seemingly idle residents who are leading "miserable lives" that he plans to write a novel about. He has been abroad and has brought back nothing. Before his mother can even open her mouth, he informs her that he hasn't found work, hasn't achieved anything, hasn't bought her any gifts, and most of all, hasn't gotten married. He has answered all the questions, so she should just leave him alone!
This is Krum, part of BAM's Next Wave Festival, a Polish production of an Israeli play with English subtitles. It is a hilarious, dark, wrenching, and glowingly transcending experience.
Written by the late Hanoch Levin, this production is a collaboration between director Krzysztof Warlikowski and the theatre company TR Warszawa, and set in Tel Aviv. The time is present, yet the feel is ancient. "Failure" is the label Krum's mother openly defends him against but privately berates him with. The townspeople have gotten used to Krum's perpetual wandering back into their lives. Krum's best friend, Tugati, has long been ill and anticipates his own death with resigned humor. Krum's long-time and episodic lover, Truda, is yearning for a marriage, if not with Krum, then maybe a meek and reliable suitor, Takhtikh. Truda's old friend Dupa, a homely middle-aged woman refusing to get out of her '80s black leather punk dress, is simply in need of someone to look at her: "I'm not beautiful. If you take a quick glance, you will find some charm. But if you take a long look, a lot of ugliness will show. So how to arrange a lot of quick glances, but no hard stares?"
As Krum re-enters these people's lives, we get many quick glances into their dignified indignation over life's harshness, and even more long and hard stares into their despair. It's not that they suffer from a physical war or poverty, but rather from that quiet and desperate life that is nothing-ever-happens. They are not able to find love, no matter how hard they try. They can't even conjure up true passion, as if lust takes a certain energy that they have long been drained of.
Doesn't sound like a play that can sustain the audience's interest for nearly three hours—with no intermission, I might add—and with hardly any plot to speak of? But it does, thrusting at the audience with an absurdist angst, strong, brisk transitions, and vivid overhead films or live projections—all with Warlikowski's breathtaking vision—and above all, nearly overwhelming acting by a very talented set of actors. Their behaviors, even at their most flabbergasting, always ring true. Jacek Poniedzialek's Krum possesses a childlike charm, and Magdalena Cielecka's Truda is openly vulnerable. Marek Kalita's Takhtikh is potently pathetic. The two standouts are a brash Tugati by Redbad Klijnstra that you just can't help but love, and an absolutely hypnotic Dupa by Malgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik.
In truth, hypnotic is the overall effect of this play of a short trip home. The visit is sometimes disturbing, but always disarming—and eventually evolves into a singular, life-affirming journey. Before we can despise the characters' frivolity in waiting for life to happen, we have grown to care about them. By the end of the play, the emptiness of these noisy people has attained the force and relentlessness of an epic. It cuts through the misery of one's existence and embraces it. It's devastating and brilliant. It will astonish you. It did me.