La MaMa E.T.C. (see the Off-Off List). By Wallace Shawn. Dir. Lars Norén. With Simona Maicanescu. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
There are some playwrights I would happily see in translation—if only to spare myself their English. Nearly anything by Neil LaBute would improve in Russian. In German, David Mamet’s The Anarchist might actually carry intellectual weight. And I bet the most recent comedies from Neil Simon would kill in Mandarin. But Wallace Shawn turns me chauvinist; his wheedling, avuncular, neurotic-sophisticate voice is so uniquely New York, I don’t want to hear it in any other tongue. I also don’t want to hear it heavily accented and syntactically shaky, as The Fever is in French-Romanian actor Simona Maicanescu’s one-note rendition at La MaMa.
Confined to a small chalk square center stage (director Lars Norén keeps the staging minimal: light shifts and color washes), Maicanescu plays a Traveler who spends 90 minutes airing out her corroded first-world conscience. Initialy read by Shawn for private audiences in 1990, the politically provocative monologue weighs the privilege of a few against the agony of the many. The Traveler, stricken with a bug while visiting a developing nation under military rule, vomits her guts into a hotel toilet even as she regurgitates her moral disgust before the audience. The script contains Shawn’s usual quirk and irony, but also a cleansing horror, as the speaker trades places, symbolically, with a tortured prisoner of the state.
The force of this material comes through very feebly in Maicanescu’s performance, which is coy, simpering and begins in a defeated, apologetic place, leaving no room for growth or surprise. Maybe it sounded better in French.—David Cote
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