nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
November 5, 2006
Life is a prison for Professor Leopold Nettles, the protagonist of Vaclav Havel's Largo Desolato. He is a dissident writer who sits at home fearfully anticipating the next knock on his door. It could be the police, come to take him to jail because his apparently inflammatory political writings. So, Leopold putters around his house afraid, creatively blocked, and unable to write. Even his daily routines—which include drinking, taking drugs, and constantly checking the peephole in his front door—become traps from which he can't free himself. Eventually, the police pay a visit, but so do several of Leopold's friends, colleagues, and supporters, sometimes much to his chagrin. In Largo Desolato, Havel imagines a world where every aspect of one's life can possibly imprison him.
Leopold's situation affects him and those close to him in very interesting ways. Because of his fear, he censors himself both verbally and emotionally. He controls his emotions and watches over every experience he has without enjoying them. Leopold's wife, Suzanna, has grown tired of his paralysis and taken a lover, Edward, whom she shamelessly flaunts in front of him. Leopold has his own lover, Lucy, who is everything he's not: outspoken, emotionally available, and just basically alive. Lucy's vibrancy shackles him because he can't match or return it. She's frustrated, and isn't sure how much longer she can put up with him.
Leopold's routines are Havel's cue to take his trademark repetition to extremes. The author uses Leopold's customs to show the monotony of his life, as each day blends into the next. But, Largo Desolato has too much of a good thing, and the repetition often continues past the point of redundancy. A hint of this comes right at the beginning, when the opening scene is played in its entirety twice. Characters engage in double talk, and replay entire sections of conversation. Havel is a terrific writer, so his points about self-confinement and the sameness of small talk are abundantly clear. Once he makes them, he doesn't need to do so again. It's overkill.
Tyna Collective's production understands the themes at work here, but is only sporadically able to activate them into compelling drama. This is largely due to Leopold himself, a character so cloaked in terror and repression that we never get a sense of who he is. He is defined solely by his circumstances, and once we learn what they are, Largo Desolato has nowhere else to go. This makes it especially tough for both director Eva Burgess and leading man Erik Kever Ryle to make things interesting. They give it their all, but are mostly undermined by the script. As the cops, Joshua Briggs and Jon Okabayashi fare better: their scene with Leopold best embodies the absurdity and immediacy of his situation. And, Nancy Nagrant does some nice work as Lucy. The entire company is skilled and talented, but their efforts are in vain. Largo Desolato's one-dimensional rhetoric makes it impossible for them to succeed because it never gives way to a three-dimensional heart.