Nosferatu

Critics' pick
Photograph: Stefan Okolowicz
Nosferatu

Nosferatu. BAM Harvey Theater (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna. With ensemble cast. In Polish with supertitles. Running time: 1hr 50mins. No intermission.

Nosferatu: In brief

Polish writer-director Grzegorz Jarzyna and his TR Warszawa company revisit BAM's Next Wave Festival, sinking their teeth into a vampire piece loosely inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula. American avant-garde jazz icon John Zorn provides the music.

Nosferatu: Theater review by Helen Shaw

Looked at dispassionately, TR Warszawa's Nosferatu is a useful Rosetta stone for cultural differences. “Aha!” we might say. “What to me look like corny porn outtakes must look in Poland like haunting atmospherics! Goodness, but the world is a rich tapestry of human taste.” Unfortunately, the tediousness of Nosferatu ensures that dispassion soon departs, to be replaced with irritated clock-watching and (for the immature among us) giggling. By the time we realize that our titular vampire's most chilling power is to disrupt cell-phone service (Dracula: just like being in a tunnel!), we've abandoned the pretense of politeness. The night I attended, some theatergoers were tiptoeing up the aisles; those of us who stayed meditated ruefully on where we had left our pitchforks.

Adapter-director Grzegorz Jarzyna frog-marches us through the Bram Stoker basics. Spooky shadows flicker on gauzy curtains; women grow lethargic after they go for a walk in the woods; an irritable Doctor Van Helsing (Jan Frycz) has suspicions about the Transylvanian fella (Wolfgang Michael) who has moved in next door. Despite having updated the tale to the present day, Jarzyna hangs on to horror’s silliest, most dated tendencies. Ladies clamber frantically up and down the men, letting themselves fall droopily into swoons even before the dreaded neck-bite. The men at this doomed house party are defiantly sleazy, with one artist character snapping photographs of a comatose woman's crotch. It's possible that Jarzyna actually means this as critique: The mortal men prove nastier than their batty dinner guest? Sadly, you can't have your critique and fetishize it, too.

From the opening scene—a desultory afternoon in a creepy, many-windowed room (Magdalena Maciejewska's set is a highlight)—Lucy (Sandra Korzeniak) distinguishes herself by having (a) a lot of hair and (b) no pants. This will be her theme; she will warm to it even as her body chills. Other people mill about, wondering why Lucy has gone into a stupor and studiously ignoring their visitor, Dracula, when he announces, “I never drink…wine.” In fact, the ageless count is the most believable character, looking as exhausted as the audience, delicately hawking up a gob of plasma (acid reflux?).

There's always been a wide stripe of sexual anxiety in gothic narratives, yet there's a reason that lately, this genre has skewed young. The image of a breathy lady succumbing in a dopey haze, climaxing as stage fog pours in through a window, is fundamentally adolescent. It can be fun adolescent, but Jarzyna & Co. are in deadly earnest. This makes it all the goofier when one rather short bloodsucker lunges intently at his buddy's neck. Nobody seems to notice. “Go to bed,” intones Dr. Van Helsing. It’s excellent advice.

Despite an evocative John Zorn score—which has its own sense of humor about horror-flick organ wheezes—the show fails most at establishing mood. We can sense Jarzyna's laborious efforts to hypnotize us with ponderous pacing, but he hasn't got the control of mise en scène necessary to turn mere slowness into dread. (The supertitles also puncture the atmosphere, as every murmured line looks embarrassing in black and white.) Of all the self-consciously eerie scenes, only Lucy's autopsy is truly suspenseful, perhaps because her nudity finally seems called for and not just another limp attempt at being subversively sexy. It's a deadly irony in a show about vampires: The biggest thrill comes not from the undead, but from the actually dead, momentarily acting up a storm on her slab.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

Event phone: 718-636-4100
Event website: http://bam.org

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NW

Helen Shaw was too kind. Sorry, even the set design in full of pretense and the staging so...droll. Even when there are opportunities to push the limit, i.e. Lucy's sleeze crawl end to end table...the fall short. The lighting (from the windows) was so intense, that it obliterated the translation screen - from where we sat. But the good news is that we didn't sit there for the full length of this embarrassment. Shame on BAM for offering this to an unsuspected audience that "trusts" their programs. We will be a lot more cautious in the future.

gabriela

I am Polish. I am very patriotic but this time I can not say anything good but describe the play as boring. I will not forget wave of audience bored with the play sitting next to me. In my opinion the subject was directed very traditional way and I am very surprised that BAM has invited this play to Next Wave Festival. There should be only new wave plays which brings new ways of interpretations and there is no place for old-fashioned way of thinking. The subject was not "broken" with unusual idea of vampires presentation. Mr. Jarzyna should look for new ideas since I have a feeling that he is stock. Anyway I wish Mr. Jarzyna and his team good luck and great inspirations since one bad play doesn't make director bad.

Deborah Pastor

Terrible- so terrible that I didn't even enjoy Zorn's score. The production owes a lot to Coppola's Dracula, and those were its good parts. I had hoped for a modern version of Dracula - with questions about the role of science vs faith, or appearances vs reality or something. Nothing doing. It wasn't even a good re-telling of the original. And why was so much made of Mina having a "man's brain in a woman's body"? That seemed to shock the characters more than the presence of a vampire in their midst. At first I thought this might lead to a feminist re-imagination of Dracula, but no such luck.

Tamar

Nosferatu was legitimately one of the worst plays I have ever seen. "Inspired" by Dracula? More like if you haven't read the book, you won't know what's going on because it's so badly written. Confusing, fragmented, nonsensical, sexually disturbing in a rape-y kind of way, clunky dialogue, long awkward pauses, lack of translation for some of the dialogue... I could go on. By the time I got up to leave, 10 people in my section had already beat me to it.