Stepping into a loft across the street from the Ukrainian Cultural Center, a long wooden table occupies center of the space. Equally long benches flank either side with a plate full of peas in front of each seat. I take my seat. Drunk soldiers stumble around me, a doctor obsessively checks his charts, and a woman casually strokes the head of a baby. A footsoldier has a crazed look, stumbling about, seemingly afflicted by dementia or malnutrition. No, this isn’t another Lion King remake or yet-another-version-of-Shakespeare. It’s Woyzeck, Georg Büchner’s infamous unfinished tragedy. And with a few words, I am transported to the rural fringes of the German Confederacy of the 1830s, watching Franz Woyzeck slowly lose his sanity.
Lonesome No More! Theatre is a new theatre troupe that has been putting together challenging and different plays since the start of 2011. A version of Frank Wedekind’s controversial (new) classic Spring Awakening was followed by the debut of Tom Dugdale’s Making Love Over There at Theatre Asylum. This presentation of Nicholas Rudall’s 2002 translation of Woyzeck is at Yeaheavy, a new space for exhibition of a performance in East Hollywood located on Melrose and Berendo. The Yeaheavy space lends itself well to theatre. With tall ceilings and few partitions, it feels both cavernous and comfy at the same time. Sitting down at the table, the audience is both on the stage and removed from the action – untouchable but only inches away.
Woyzeck has always been a social commentary, even in its incomplete form at the time of author Georg Büchner’s death in 1837. I’d say its return to fashion occurred (for your Herzog enthusiasts) in the 1979 film version starring Klaus Kinski. Almost foreshadowing Les Miserables, it reveals how far the downtrodden will go to support themselves. Desperation, the drug that forces humanity to degrade itself to the point of depravaity. The minor differences in class create chasms of respect and trust throughout the play. It flaunts our addiction to power, and mocks our adulation to the new god (“Science”). In light of recent events Downtown, it is hard to not apply this as a metaphor for the societal injustices of today.
This wouldn’t be possible without an exceptionally capable cast and crew. Every part of the Yeaheavy space is fair game and utilized with aplomb. Director Max Baumgarten engages your your imaginative capacity through a minimalist approach and keeping all the actors on “stage” at all times. This risky gamble pays off as it is impossible to discern Woyzeck’s hallucinations from reality. Red light and branches create the frontlines of battle, soldiers file down aisles, a closed door morphs into a bedroom. Patrick Riley sharply morphs into the neurotic Woyzeck, expertly keeping the audience off balance. Amara Gyulai, starring as Woyzeck’s love Marie, plays the audience and Riley equally well. She oscillates between innocence and deception as she cozies up with superior officers and Woyzeck’s fragile mind. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, fully conscious that they are on stage at all times, and fall into their characters with a natural ease. The original score, provided by Matthew Shewfelt, drapes Woyzeck’s paranoia in an almost maudlin waltz, lending to the illusion of the stage.
In its empty spaces, illusory activities and contemptuous characters, the play thrives. A focused, serious tone creates such social commentary that it would be foolhardy not to witness this production before it is gone. Woyzeck’s final performances are this week. You can see it on December 1, 2, 4 at 8 pm or December 3 at 8pm and 10:30pm. Catch it before you imagined you saw it.