nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 23, 2008
Counting Squares Theatre comes into its own as a compelling new voice in New York's indie theater community with a very impressive production of Woyzeck at Under St. Marks. Joshua Chase Gold, who has adapted and directed Georg Buchner's famous play from 1837, masterfully mashes up three wartime epochs here: Buchner's own, ours (the war in Iraq), and a mythic one from in between (World War II).
This last is represented by an omnipresent trio of girl singers (brilliantly performed by Kendra Holton, Deborah Radloff, and Kristin Stewart) who comment on the action (and sometimes participate in it and/or push it slightly forward) with songs like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Miss Otis Regrets" and "Amazing Grace." Their style is 1940s Big Band Swing, but their mood (and makeup) is ironic expressionism and their function is unabashedly Brechtian: not only do they make us stop and take note of the savage events being played out before us by the other actors on stage, but they really focus us on the forced and sometimes false jocularity of the very words they are singing. I never noticed how melancholy lyrics like this actually are: "But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft / He's in the army now, blowing reveille."
Holton, Radloff, and Stewart harmonize spectacularly, thanks certainly in part to the fine work of musical director/arranger Andrew Sotomayor, whose accompaniment on the keyboard propels the songs and story neatly. There's a great deal of music in this Woyzeck, but it always feels like commentary and it always feels integral though never integrated. It's quite a feat on the part of the musicians and director Gold.
Buchner's story is here too, of course: a sorrowful account of a soldier returned home from the wars, too alienated to feel fit for anything in civilian life. Ryan Nicholoff gives us a proud anti-hero, tormented (the voices he hears are embodied by those three women: the Andrews Sisters as Macbeth's Weird Sisters) but lacking any self-awareness, which just makes his predicament all the more tragic. There's a scene, for example, between Woyzeck and his Army Captain, in which, while the Captain ridicules and demeans his subordinate, Nicholoff's Woyzeck shines the Captain's boots with such vigor and flourish that it becomes clear how significant the completion of this menial task is to a man whose life has been drained of meaning.
Nicholoff shines also in his encounters with Dena Kology, who plays Marie, the young woman who is Woyzeck's girlfriend and the mother of his child. Kology gives us here a grim portrait of determined survival: we feel what it costs her when she lets another man sleep with her for money, but we understand how necessary it is.
Gold's staging is stark and economical, with the company of ten actors using few props and set pieces to evoke the various locales and moods of the play: Jessica Burgess's lighting, Karen Wolcott's costumes, and Sotomayor's musical accompaniment supply all we need and our imaginations conjure the rest. The production is taut, relentless, and moving, and though Gold's director's note in the program explicitly ties the piece to the current war, he and his company achieve something more universal here—an examination of the consequences of all social injustice. It's a potent work of theatre that gives its audience much to ponder.