3 Kinds of Exile

  • Theater
  • Drama
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Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
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3 Kinds of Exile

3 Kinds of Exile. Atlantic Theater Company (see Off Broadway). By John Guare. Dir. Neil Pepe. With Guare, Omar Sangare, Martin Moran. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

3 Kinds of Exile: plot synopsis

Veteran playwright John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) makes his Off Broadway acting debut as the costar of his own new drama about mid-20th-century Eastern European artists creating new lives for themselves in the West. Atlantic honcho Neil Pepe directs the production; Peter Maloney and David Pittu share top billing.

3 Kinds of Exile: theater review

In describing John Guare’s triptych of new works at the Atlantic, one recalls the wisdom of Meat Loaf: Two out of three ain’t bad. Let’s get the bad one out of the way. Funiage, the third of the playlets directed by Neil Pepe under the title 3 Kinds of Exile, is adapted from stories by the mid-20th-century writer Witold Gombrowicz, who left Poland for Argentina in 1939 and decided he preferred it there. In Guare’s version, Gombrowicz (David Pittu) is the central figure in a precious, collegiate “Brechtian” cabaret. The actors wear bowlers and divvy up stiff, translated-sounding lines about war and maturity; occasionally they break into old-style ditties, including a polka (“When my stomach’s in knots / And of nothing I’ve lots / Then I dance till I plotz / And I see polka dots—Hey!”). There’s a symbolic mystery man in a gleaming white suit, and it’s all rather painful to watch.

Happily, Guare’s other two pieces are more rewarding. Karel is a 15-minute story, told by Martin Moran, about psychosomatic illness: a scarlet rash on the body of a man who escaped pre-Nazi Eastern Europe as a child. The story is simple but the language is vivid (“He felt like a tropical flower out of Gauguin”). And in the engrossing cautionary tale Elzbieta Erased, Guare himself takes the stage (opposite actor Omar Sangare) to recount the true, sad story of the late actor Elzbieta Czyzewska, a superstar in Poland who imploded in America. Delivered in the form of a lecture, and studded with names from decades of New York intellectual-artistic culture, the piece draws Czyzewska as the picture hidden in a game of historical connect-the-dots. It plays with the notion (not unkindly) that for some kinds of exile, a will to leave might also amount to a will to be left behind.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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