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Masterfully directed and performed ‘Woyzeck’ fills theater with emotion

By Polina Potochevska

Section: Arts, Featured

October 13, 2017

Paranoia. Guilt. Infidelity. Peas. What do all of these things have in common? This past weekend, the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts presented the play “Woyzeck” by Georg Büchner in the Merrick Theater of the Spingold Theater.

The opening night performance on Friday, Oct. 6 was packed, with chairs forming a semicircle on the floor of Merrick. The intriguing hour-long play was directed by Raphael Stigliano ’18 and stage managed by Tres Fimmano ’18. Stigliano wrote in the director’s note of the program that he was interested in directing “Woyzeck” due to its flexibility and its discussion of “class, religion, relationships and abuse.” After 22 rehearsals, the program states that the play included so much more than Stigliano “ever anticipated.”

Dan Souza ’19 and Gabi Nail ’18 deliver internees performances in ‘Woyzeck’

“Woyzeck” is loosely based on a true story about a soldier in Leipzig who murders his romantic partner, according to the program. This version of the play told the story of Franz Woyzeck (Dan Souza ’19), a 30 year old rifleman and military barber who is overcome with paranoia and is said to be “possessed” with various hallucinations and troubling thoughts of his wife’s affair.

A local doctor, played by Ryan Sands ’19, takes advantage of Woyzeck and experiments on him by having him eat nothing but peas for three months to test its effects on the mind and body, as he believes it will be revolutionary. Sands’ portrayal of the crazed doctor is both intense and “sinister,” as written in the program of the characters, and his interactions with Woyzeck, who is not in a healthy state of mind, often feel dark and ominous, such as during Woyzeck’s checkups.

The play began with an emotional partnered dance between Woyzeck and Marie, while ensemble member Karina Wen ’20 skillfully and emotionally narrated a mysterious story about an abandoned child that left the audience wanting to learn more.

Throughout the play, Woyzeck hears voices in his head that convince him he needs to take revenge on his wife, Marie (Gabi Nail ’18), for having an affair. The audience hears his voices to at point, a cacophony of words and sounds. It seems that everyone around him, including the Doctor and his Captain (Sophia Massidda ’20), knows of Marie’s affair with the Drum Major (Ben Astrachan ’19), and tease him mercilessly about it.

As Woyzeck’s paranoia grows, he becomes increasingly violent with Marie, shoving her in one intense scene where she has to push him off her and powerfully reprimands his aggressiveness. The power in both of the actors in this scene and their portrayal of anger and hurt made it gripping for the audience.

The program warned there were moments of physical violence, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, suicidal imagery and brief strong language.

After her affair with the Drum Major, Marie is seen wearing golden earrings which she tells Woyzeck that she found in the street. But it’s clear that he does not trust her. This scene was done cleverly, as Massidda, also an ensemble member, acted as Marie’s reflection in the mirror, and mimicked her mouth and body movements from across a table to make the action clear. Both Massidda and Nail artfully displayed the anguish so present in Marie’s relationship with Woyzeck through their facial expressions.

The music in the show, directed by Emily Politi ’19, was very compelling and helped the audience understand what Woyzeck was feeling. For example, when the Captain is riling Woyzeck up about Marie’s affair with the Drum Major, performers played in the background with increasing pace and speed, signaling Woyzeck’s temper rising. This recurs throughout the play and helps bring Woyzeck’s character and intense emotions to life.

The drum is also used for sound effects, such as in the scene where the Drum Major is throwing rocks at Marie’s window. It is a moment of comedic relief in the play, as the Major sneaks onto and around the stage while hushing Wen, who carried the drum with her. Every time he mimed throwing a rock, Astrachan looked over to Wen, who then promptly hit the drum once to signify the sound of it hitting Marie’s window, and the audience couldn’t help but laugh at their facial expressions and teamwork onstage. The ability to act both seriously and humorously within an intense play such as Woyzeck truly shows the wide skill of the actors and the director for portraying so many different emotions into a one hour play.

‘Woyzeck’ stuns in Merrick Theater

There was also a capella singing, as in the beginning when Marie is singing a lullaby to her baby, a puppet in a light blue onesie, which is later reprised in a more eerie tone by Woyzeck at the end of the play. Woyzeck’s friend, Andres, also played by Sands, sings a tune near the end of the play as Woyzeck’s paranoia and insanity truly takes over him. These moments were well done by the actors, musically and emotionally, and the tension was tangible in the room.
The set was laid out with a table, chairs, a stool and a bench placed around the stage. While this setup was not extravagant, it fit the story and allowed the characters and their passion to fill the room with the few important props they had. The actors also used the balcony in the Merrick Theater, which made the setting feel real. The lighting of the show, done by Noah Mark ’19, helped artfully transition between scenes and showcase the darkness in Woyzeck’s mind.

The costumes, designed by Haia Bchiri ’20, were simple yet elegant and fit each character’s personality well. Woyzeck’s military uniform was crisp, along with the Captain’s overcoat and Marie’s flowing dress and tight braids that gradually unravelled as the story went on, a subtle but clever representation of her state of mind. Bchiri also choreographed the various fight scenes in the play, between the Drum Major and Woyzeck, and between Woyzeck and Marie, which were expertly done and both looked and felt real in the moment.

Souza’s performance as Woyzeck was truly captivating and believable. His final moments where he hears voices telling him to “stab the she-wolf dead” culminated in a powerful scene that left the audience on the edges of their seats, especially as this followed a passionate scene where Nail, as Marie, ripped pages from a Bible, spurred by the guilt of her infidelity. All of the actors filled the room with their emotion and dedication to the play and it was visible that their hard work had come to fruition.

Wen told The Brandeis Hoot about her experience being in the production of “Woyzeck.” She explained that, “The process was amazing. I loved the way we were able to deconstruct the text and let the show constantly evolve.” This adaptation of Büchner’s story was a fascinating view into a strained relationship and the fragility of human beings, and was executed beautifully.

While the play had free admission, Stigliano addressed the audience before the show began to let them know that the cast would provide the opportunity for the attendees to donate money to “Unidos Por Puerto Rico,” an organization that is dedicated to hurricane relief for Puerto Rico. A donation box was placed outside of the theater before and after the show for people to donate if they so wished. At the end of the weekend, it was posted on the Facebook event page that $358 were raised for the cause.

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