Woyzeck

The Hypocrites at the Chopin Theatre ChicagoWoyzeck

By Georg Büchner

Adapted and Directed by Sean Graney

Produced by The Hypocrites

At the Chopin Theatre

Ein guter Mord, ein ächter Mord, ein schöner Mord, so schön als man ihn nur verlangen thun kann, wir haben schon lange so kein gehabt.

A funny thing that an author’s most influential work should be incomplete at the time of his death; but such is the case with Woyzeck, by Georg Büchner, who died of typhus at only twenty-three.  It is a powerful play by a young man who might have achieved the heights of Goethe and Schiller.  Even as unfinished sketches, it strikes at the heart.  And not only is it the first German play about a commoner, it is unflinching in its assessment of the German condition; of class boundaries and moral assumptions; in its sympathetic cruelty to the ordinary man.

woyzeck by the hypocrites

The story is of a poor soldier in a small, German town, living with a girl, whom bore his child out of wedlock: marriage, after all, is expensive.  He saves money however he can, performing menial jobs and taking part in medical experiments.  His health begins failing, and the girl turns to another man.  In a jealous rage, he kills her.

That is the broad outline, but the details are sketchier: there are several drafts of the play, with different endings, implications, and scene sequences.  So each production of this play can be as unique as it likes, placing scenes where they will, choosing how mad Woyzeck is and which ending they prefer.

It is also a piece that influenced the Expressionists, seventy-some years later; and this detail is not lost on the Hypocrites, who have made Woyzeck a piece of Epic Theatre, of Theatre of the Absurd, Theatre of Cruelty.  It is Bloc Theatre, exciting, odd, and gripping.  The actors never leave the stage, sitting on tree stumps when not taking part in the action, creating sound effects, setting the ambience.  The audience is aware of the artifice of theatre, of the play’s metatheatricality: certain words are linked to certain actions or other words spoken by those “off-stage.”  The destruction of realism creates a new dichotomy, with the theatre more visceral and immediate, yet metaphorical and intellectualized.  And Hypocrites realizes this aim very well.  And the lighting, set, costumes, as well as the rest of the production enhance this goal.

woyzeck by the hypocrites

I say very little because there is too much to say.  This play is rich, its social commentary compelling, its presentation fulfilling.  It deserves a treatise, rather than a review; and since that is something I cannot give it – I would feel yet unqualified after ten viewings, though I doubt the piece would get old even then – brevity seems to offend less.  But let me say: in a city where the Kitchen Sink drama reigns supreme, where realism abounds and musicals thrive, this is refreshing, bold, and daring, and will leave you gloriously shocked as only something that presents dark truths so immediately can.

Highly recommended

Will Fink

Reviewed on 4.24.11

For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.