Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 38 / 18 September 2014
 
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Tragic love for the
holiday season

Theatre


Alex Crowther and Madeline H.D. Brown are doomed lovers in Woyzeck, a new musical adaptation of the 19th-century drama that Shotgun Players is presenting in Berkeley. (Photo: Jessica Palopoli)
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We're in the holiday homestretch, but even as jingle bells grow louder, some theaters have opted to keep the "no" in Noel. Let us travel first to Shotgun Player's Ashby Stage, where the production may be a musical, but not one with any rest for ye merry gentlemen. Indeed, the first song in Tom Waits' score for Woyzeck is titled "Misery Is the River of the World," and its lyrics declare that "if there's one thing you can say about mankind, there's nothing kind about man.''

German playwright Karl Georg Buchner died in 1837, before he could tie together the fragments of his play Woyzeck, which has lured numerous adaptors to mold the material in different ways. Alban Berg's opera and Werner Herzog's film are two famous examples, and in 2000 gritty folksinger Tom Waits, his wife and songwriting colleague Kathleen Brennan, and avant-garde director Robert Wilson teamed for the third time to create a Woyzeck of their own. Frequent Shotgun director Mark Jackson is putting his own stamp on the Waits-Brennan-Wilson concept.

"The music seemed to set something free on a poetic level that straight translations of the text alone had never done for me," Jackson says. "Music is the universal language that articulates feelings that words alone can't get their tongue around."

Played by Alex Crowther in the Shotgun production, Franz Woyzeck is a low-ranking soldier who takes on a series of demeaning jobs to augment his salary and provide for his companion and their child. When he learns of her affair with a strutting drum major, both the betrayal and his own grueling history lead him to murder. Buchner based his text on an actual event that ended with a specificity that the playwright didn't get to provide for his drama, and which is another open door for adaptors to pass.

"Woyzeck's tragic love for Marie and, through her, the society he fought for and is now spurned by, is quite palpable," Jackson says of the humanizing elements that the songs bring to the grim story. Woyzeck will run through Jan. 27 at the Ashby Stage; tickets at www.shotgunplayers.org.

 

Encore for Hedwig

The Boxcar Theatre is celebrating during the holidays if not exactly for the holidays, inasmuch as the title of the show at hand references a botched sex-change operation. But the reason for celebration is that Boxcar is remounting its summer hit production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a few new flourishes to an already radically reconceived production.

Director Nick A. Olivero was able to get creator John Cameron Mitchell's permission to increase the size of the cast, from two to 13, with individual actors playing the characters that Hedwig refers to in her stories, and by having eight actors share the role of Hedwig. The rock musical, with score by Stephen Trask, follows the transgendered title character as she tries to eke out a musical career in the shadow of a double-crossing former partner who has become a superstar.

There are multiple Hedwigs in Boxcar Theatre's remounting of its summer hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch that received permission from creator John Cameron Mitchell for a radical re-rendering.
(Photo: Courtesy Boxcar Theatre)

"Having so many sides of Hedwig's personality represented really unlocked some deeper meanings in the story for me," Olivero said. The Hedwigs are indeed a diverse group: men, women, black, white, older, younger, tall, skinny, short, large, gay, and straight.

All of this takes place in the 49-seat Boxcar Playhouse on Natoma Street through Feb. 11. Meanwhile, at the Boxcar Theatre Studios on Hyde Street, Boxcar does get into the holiday spirit, though a bit more as a walk on the dark side than usually associated with Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

In Scrooge: The Haunting of Ebenezer, Boxcar veteran Jeff Garrett plays all the characters, with a stark focus on the title character. "This one-man performance strips away the sentimentality," says director Peter Ruocco, "while remaining true to the wit and fire of Dickens' masterpiece of storytelling." The run continues through Dec. 30. More info on Boxcar productions is available at www.boxcartheatre.org.

 

Holiday pulchritude

No reason to limit seasonal arousal to any one time of the year. That's the spirit behind Holidays Throughout the Year: An Evening of Classic Burlesque. That evening is Dec. 21, and the Exit Theatre is the locale for this ecdysiast tribute to Christmas, Hanukkah, Mardi Gras, the Fourth of July, and even the end of the Mayan calendar.

The evocatively named performers include Tasty Temptress, If-n-Whendy, Elyse Elaine, Dangerous Delilah, Mistress Marla Spanks, Sgt. Die Weiss, Rosey Bootycelli, Laura Borealis, Red Delicious, CoCo Jewelle, Red Velvet, and emcee Odessa Lil. Tickets are available at www.theexit.org.

 






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