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Clip: Tom Waits hits the stage (Woyzeck reviewed)

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/31/arts/theater/31WOYZ.html THEATER REVIEW | WOYZECK Woyzeck as a Normal Guy Who Gets Jealous By JON PARELES [I] t took crusty
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2002

      Woyzeck as a Normal Guy Who Gets Jealous

      [I] t took crusty romantics like Tom Waits and his wife and longtime
      songwriting partner, Kathleen Brennan, to bring out the sympathetic side of
      the director and designer Robert Wilson.

      Their adaptation of Georg Büchner's strange and fractured 19th-century play
      "Woyzeck," at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music through
      Nov. 16, is in some ways a typical collection of Mr. Wilson's geometric
      stage tableaus and comic-grotesque performances. But at its center is a
      Woyzeck who looks like a relatively normal guy and keeps coming back to one
      of Mr. Waits's most deeply affectionate songs. The philosophical debates
      and demented ravings that figure in more realistic productions of "Woyzeck"
      and in Berg's opera "Wozzeck" soon give way, in this adaptation, to a tale
      of jealous love.

      Mr. Wilson's collaborations with rock songwriters have sometimes been more
      like collisions, as the straightforwardness and concision of rock clash
      with Mr. Wilson's dream logic and slow-motion timing. But "Woyzeck" is his
      third collaboration with Mr. Waits and Ms. Brennan, and they have reached a
      détente that's somewhere near a reimagined surrealist cabaret. Mr. Waits
      has always had a Kurt Weill streak in his music, subverting pretty melodies
      with arrangements that creak and clank. Mr. Wilson enjoys the combination
      of the everyday and the inexplicable, and Mr. Waits's ballads still let him
      take his time.

      In the underlying play, poverty turns Woyzeck into the plaything of faith,
      science and nature. A self-satisfied captain lectures him on morality; a
      doctor (played, in this production, by an actor and actress joined like
      Siamese twins, bouncing lines between them) pays him to eat a wacky diet
      and treats him as a specimen; a friend named Andres, made up as a warped
      double of Woyzeck, touts the inevitability of instinct. Woyzeck himself,
      when pressed, envisions conspiracies and subterranean turmoil. But the
      opening song, "Misery Is the River of the World," simplifies things: with a
      lurching carnival oom-pah, it contends, "If there's one thing you can say
      about mankind/ There's nothing kind about man."

      Woyzeck's worst problem is that his wife, Marie, is cheating on him with a
      self-satisfied drum major, eventually driving Woyzeck to madness and
      murder. Mr. Wilson keeps the narrative clear, and the Danish actors from
      the Betty Nansen Theater of Copenhagen speak English impeccably. For the
      most part, they also deliver the Waits-Brennan songs with the right
      combination of tenderness and rasp, and the six-member band has fully
      absorbed the meticulously disjointed style of Mr. Waits's arrangements. (He
      recorded his own versions of songs from "Woyzeck" on his album "Blood
      Money," released by Anti/Epitaph.)

      As Woyzeck, Jens Jorn Spottag is a stoic, Buster Keaton character. Though
      he's endlessly running in place, Wilson-style, he speaks and sings in
      natural tones, lingering over the song "Coney Island Baby": "She's a rose,
      she's a pearl, she's the spin on my world." But Woyzeck is a man beset by
      cartoon figures. Everyone else growls and cackles except Kaya Bruel as
      Marie, a whispery, vampy femme fatale who steals every scene.

      The sets use German Expressionist angles and a Kandinsky palette, and Mr.
      Wilson color-codes the characters: white for Woyzeck, his son and Andres;
      blue-black for the captain and doctor(s); red for the cheating lovers. At
      times, Mr. Wilson's imagery can be breathtakingly obvious; when Woyzeck
      decides on murder, a blood-red spotlight illuminates his hand. But as
      always in a Wilson production, there are moments of eerie perfection, among
      them a dance hall scene that has the performers slanting and twitching to a
      subliminal beat.

      Yet there's more to this "Woyzeck" than eye candy. Between the warped yet
      homey songs and Mr. Spottag's troubled deadpan, Woyzeck becomes more than a
      cipher. In a perverse world, he's still oddly human.


      By Georg Büchner; directed by Robert Wilson; music and lyrics by Tom Waits
      and Kathleen Brennan; adaptation and translation by Wolfgang Wiens and
      Ann-Christin Rommen; sets by Mr. Wilson; costumes by Jacques Reynaud;
      lighting by A. J. Weissbard and Mr. Wilson. Production by Betty Nansen
      Theater of Copenhagen, presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. At the
      Harvey Lichtenstein Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene.

      WITH: Jens Jorn Spottag (Woyzeck), Kaya Bruel (Marie), Morten Eisner and
      Marianne Mortensen (Doctors), Ole Thestrup (Captain), Ann-Mari Max Hansen
      (Margret), Morten Lutzhoft (Andres), Benjamin Boe Rasmussen (Karl), Tom
      Jensen (Drum Major), Troels Il Munk (Carnival Announcer) and Joseph
      Driffield, Jeppe Dahl Rordam or Morten Thorup Koudal (Christian).
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