nytheatre.com review by Lauren Marks
June 9, 2006
Teatro Slovak, currently at Galapagos in Brooklyn, bills itself as a Slovakian troupe recently arrived in America. In it, performers individually confront their histories in relationship to their medieval-minded home country, and express their hopes for themselves in the USA.
The evening begins with actors passing a shot of vodka to each audience member, and initiating the performance with a Slovakian toast. The piece consists of a few monologues from the characters reflecting on their homeland, a number of dances (some more traditional than others), and a short bit of multimedia collage. The actors are accompanied by an excellent onstage orchestra, and make use of a minimal stage, adorned by little else than a few ropes.
Though the piece begins quite non-traditionally, as indicated by the toast, what was most surprising about Teatro Slovak was not its strangeness, but its familiarity. Sure, there's the added intrigue of a good deal of the play being partially in Slovakian (or what one presumes to be Slovakian), but for something that seems to have the potential to be so out there, so, well…foreign, the piece is instead rather unsurprising.
Oddly, the play offers few moments of what seem to be genuine insight from a outsider's eye. Through the course of the work in fact, many audience members seemed to openly doubt that the troupe, made up entirely of young actors, was, in fact, from Slovakia. Perhaps this issue of genuine-ness might be moot, but there is something distinctly dissatisfying about not knowing what is true, and therefore what to distrust, combined with a general frustration of not being let in on the joke. Does it matter if the actors are actually from Slovakia? Absolutely not. Does it matter to the audience to know why the piece chooses to appropriate Slovakia, of all places, as its point of origin? Absolutely. If the actors are not from Slovakia, why say so? Is it meant to heighten the tragedy of the despondent bits, or to make the humorous parts funnier? As it is, all it manages to do effectively is create a curious enigma that isn't really solved for the audience, heightened by the fact that the group does not provide programs for its spectators.
Teatro Slovak does bring to life some seriously oddball characters, a clown whose family worked in a ball bearing factory for generations and a rapper who likes to bring a little Slovakian flavor to his jams. There is also a very short but well done piece of aerial work on the ropes, and a truly funny musical number comes when a supposed Slovakian rock star stumbles onstage during the actors' performance. She does a great song about how there are so many wonderful boys to choose from in the world, but, as the melancholy song's title suggests, "You can't f-ck them all."
Unfortunately, all in all, the work feels uncongealed. Its many pieces don't fully come together, and the question of what the performance is exactly (and where exactly it comes from) looms large and preoccupies the majority of work.