Trap Door Theatre. By Slawomir Mrozek. Directed by Beata Pilch. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
Printed on the program theater-goers nab as they enter the intimate Trap Door Theatre for director Beata Pilch’s Vatzlav is a disembodied mouth, frozen in a screaming “O” with hands cupped tightly against ears—stark against a loud, orange background. It’s an apt image for the equally deafening show: bold, manic and utterly discombobulating.
But then again that’s the idea with an absurdist Polish dramatist like playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Vatzlav, Mrozek’s breathless 1968 work, translated here by Ralph Manheim, is an examination of freedom, justice and self-discovery; a wonky philosophical allegory—or so it’s billed once you dig through the thick veil of colorful nonsense in which the production is cloaked.
We meet the titular everyman (an overshadowed Eddy Karch), a former slave, as he’s washed up on shore in a foreign land following a shipwreck. Karch is funny but forgettable when spitting sweeping statements on freedom and society and bantering with the constant stream of bizarre characters that cross his path. There’s the vampy Mrs. Bat (an especially engaging Ann Sonneville), the duo of townsfolk armed with a ukelele (Mike Mazzocca and Holly Thomas Cerney), the petulant child (J. Keegan Siebken) and a rotating troupe of others.
There’s a character sent to work as a hunted bear in the forest, a burlesque-style striptease, a blood-sucking couple who liken their sanguine activities to picking wild raspberries. The characters, and the script itself, are severe and dense with apparent cerebral meaning, fueled by admirably enthusiastic actors. But by the time those deeper subtexts are processed, the frenzied action has long blown past.
It’s a sensory overload to be sure, but an occasionally entertaining one. Mrozek has a lot to say, though some of it gets lost in translation. What, exactly, he’s getting at? That’s for you to decide—you know, if you can get past the guy in the bear mask.