at Link’s Hall

Berlitz never mentioned this in their advertising. Using only the simple dialogue of language-lesson tapes, Paul, an American bachelor, enters into an affair with Eve, the wife of his Budapest business associate. For a time the lovers are happy, even when the war calls Paul to military service. But then both fall prey to a mysterious illness characterized by coughing, anemia, petit mal convulsions, and compulsive repetitive behavior. This plague gradually infects the entire population, who bravely attempt to carry on their bourgeois life-styles and banal conversations. Finally, Eve muses on the timelessness of the Danube before throwing herself into it.

Maria Irene Fornes seems not overly concerned that the audience instantly comprehend her plays, and The Danube is no exception. The obviously metaphorical disease could be AIDS, initiated as it is by Paul and Eve’s sexual encounters, but the play was first produced in 1982. The symptoms also resemble those of posttraumatic stress syndrome–a psychological disorder that might well become widespread in a country devastated by war. Then again, the play is set in 1938, and the ailment might be an allegory for creeping fascism. On the other hand, a program note reminds us that the Danube flows through what was once Yugoslavia, so the epidemic could represent factionalism in general. Another program note informs us that a Hungarian scientist “came across the scientific principle that led to the atom bomb”: Is the general debilitation the result of radioactive fallout? Is the entire play an allegory for the increasing disintegration of the whole world?

As if such questions did not render The Danube muddy enough, this production makes use of dramatic devices that further distance or distract us from the central story line: when Paul and Eve declare their love for one another (in terms not likely to be found in any language lesson), a voice-over translates their words from English into Hungarian. A few scenes are played twice, once with marionettes and again with live actors. Prophylactic measures against the mysterious plague include laboratory goggles and a disinfectant sprayer painted as brightly as a child’s art-class project.

Director Shira Piven has, one hopes, a purpose in burdening Fornes’s nonrealistic script with an equally nonrealistic staging. Her cast–all of whom have impeccable credentials–carry out their instructions with agile enthusiasm. So much so, in fact, that often the kinetic-spastic choreography overwhelms the already enigmatic narrative. Violinist Caroline G. Schless’s incidental variations on Danube themes provide the solace of familiarity amid the welter of experimentation.


Shakespeare’s Motley Crew

at Puszh Studios

In a little under an hour, Jung Passes Brutus on the Stairs presents us with, among other things, (1) a scene from Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin, in which a wife rhapsodizes about her lover until a segue into Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale causes her jealous husband to strangle her, (2) a scene from Edward Bond’s Lear in which a father crawls up from under an autopsy table to mourn his daughter, after which the daughter rises from the dead to deliver a speech from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, (3) the final confrontation scene from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, (4) the “mad animal” and “death of Damiens” speeches from Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade, Creon’s “ship of state” speech from Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, and the penny-pitching sequence from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and (5) a scene in which a woman who’s broken into a doctor’s office proceeds to discard all her medical records, to the distress of another patient who protests, “You have to keep track of these things!”

For those audience members unable to keep track of anything in this surrealistic pastiche, the flier for this production–conceived and performed by a group calling itself Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, directed by Roz Francis–explains that its purpose is to “travel the landscape of the entrapped mind.” All the vignettes do deal in some way or another with liberation from external oppression, and a framing device identifies the actors as patients/prisoners in a therapeutic retreat/isolation cell, where they eventually overpower and murder their psychiatrist.

But as the difficulties entailed by the “dreamscape” structure SMC employs in Jung Passes Brutus–chief of which is the necessity to change characters swiftly–whip the actors into a hyperemotional frenzy, it becomes increasingly apparent that they are having much more fun with this acting exercise then we are. The Motley Crew display considerable if still raw talent, however, and though the whole never becomes more than the sum of its parts, watching these young artists go through their paces is not without its pleasures. After all, even a dreamscape needs an audience to become a performance.