Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern surprises once again. After opening their season by standing Shakespeare’s examination of power politics in Richard II on its head, LGP’s Power Season continues with two short little-known Eastern European absurdist works by Polish-born (1930) playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Derklöwnschpankeneffeckt: two plays for klöwn continues at Manbites Dog Theater (Other Voices series) through April 6.
Mrozek defected from Communist Poland in 1963 and became a French citizen in 1978, but his earlier life-experience during the era of Stalin enabled him to deftly skewer totalitarian politics and practices while looking at the reasons people fail to defy them. Self-preservation is at the top of that list, and these works are dated by the complete inability of the characters in both plays to ally themselves against the forces of fate or government arrayed against them. In 1961 when Out at Sea and Striptease were written, Solidarność, the Polish Solidarity movement that eventually dismantled the Soviet bureaucracy in Poland, wasn’t even a gleam in an intellectual’s eye.
Out at Sea presents a classic moral conundrum. Three men, supposedly lost at sea, are starving to death. Someone must be eaten. But who? Will it be the struggling Thin (Jay O’Berski)? Will it be bossman Fat (Carl Martin)? Or maybe his sycophant, Medium (Jeffrey Detwiler)? Or will something occur to save them? The three men, very crafty actors all, rock and stumble in their tossing boat to a set of interwoven rhythms laid down by director Michael O’Foghludha. A sometime drummer, O’Foghludha spends his days deeply concerned with fairness and justice and the power of the state, as an elected Superior Court judge. His acute insight into the material, his propensity for rhythmic structuring, and the superb physical skills of the actors combine to make theater that is as much dance as play. O’Berski and Detwiler have an energy flow between them that makes me think of lit dynamite being tossed back and forth; with Martin in the mix, the sense of danger only increases. These three move so seamlessly together to convey all the nuances of power negotiations that the words, as funny as they are, become secondary. Nicola Bullock choreographed.
But to see just Detwiler and O’Berski together in Striptease is fabulous. These two go way back together, and have together made some of the most memorable stage images in the Triangle since 1993. In Chelsea Kurtzman’s excellent costumes and Chad Evans’ clever set, they make another here. Striptease is a more focused play, and they tear into it with all the force their mutual trust and anarchic tendencies make possible. Their comic timing is, by this time, natural to them, and director O’Foghludha takes full advantage it as he explores Mrozek’s exploration of the meaning of freedom–a quest never out of date.
The sheer amount of brain power at work in this production is awesome–the director and actors are very well served by the sharp work by all the designers. Sound designer Quaran Karriem and lighting designer R.S. Buck made the atmosphere. Alex Maness contributed photography and video; he, Kurtzman, Stephanie Waaser and the ubiquitous Jenn Evans created the large special effects in the second play.
If you care at all about the relationship between individual and government, or perhaps you feel the hand of government reaches too far and takes too much, you’ll want to see these plays. If you just want to laugh, it is OK to go for that alone.