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Two tortured everymen enliven stage stories from other eras 

Time and again

A Clockwork Orange

Scoop up any spare deng laying around and go smecking off ASAP to the Subterranean Nightclub for a dollop of synthemesc and a fiery performance of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (1962).

Michael Lee and his THEATREdART droogs will astonish with their polished retelling that shapes itself word for word and brawl by brawl to the tiers and platforms of the obliging SubT. Each scene is adroitly fit by Lee into a seemingly customized playing area and you move, as on a guided tour, from milk bar to tenement to prison and back with unbroken observance of the story at hand.

Your host, narrator, and hero of the festivities is a lad named Alex, and he is no Boy Scout. Played with fierce energy and conviction by TdA's Christian O'Shaughnessy, he leads audiences on a spree of choreographed violence justified with airtight philosophical creeds on the subject of "free will."

He quells a gang mutiny, terrorizes a bookish pedestrian, steals a car, rapes a cultured suburbanite while her disabled husband looks on, and crushes the skull of another with a plaster bust of his beloved composer Beethoven, all in one night. (The fight choreography is unusually good and well-executed.) When the last victim unexpectedly expires, Alex is caught, and off he goes to the hoosgow for 14 years. Now the real fun begins.

To shorten his sentence, Alex consents to something called the Ludovico technique, a gruesome regimen of drugs and brainwashing to domesticate and rid him of his violent impulses. It works; on release Alex is nauseated by his former animality to the point of helplessness. What was once a path of destruction now becomes a bizarre memory lane as he re-encounters his transformed "droog" gangmates and past victims.

Nothing is needed in the SubT to bring out or enhance the changing locales of Alex's journey. Brick walls, aluminum railings, box speakers and staircases easily double as either penal institution or housing project; couches and comfy cushioned chairs for the Korova Milk Bar and the cozy residences of Alex's affluent victims. The dance floor makes an excellent street and alley stand-in, and laboratory for the horrific Ludovico treatment.

Actors also do effective double-duty. Ashley Crockett as the Cat Lady, then as the Minister of the Interior, is an excellent example of how it's done, presenting us with two distinct character types. As Mr. Alexander and Dr. Brodsky, Dylan Mosley also makes the leap from Alex's victim to a fiendish administrative punisher with equally convincing skill.

Woyzeck

So many currents and contradictions run through Franz Woyzeck, Georg Büchner's maniacally self-destructive title character, that we know less about him at the end of the play than we do in the beginning.

Though with taste and keen artistry director Kevin Landis exceeds anything seen on the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant stage this year, Woyzeck remains a mystery within a mystery. The enduring heraldry the play has received is exaggerated, but on the other hand, the 1836 German work does construct a vivid world of military and scientific authoritarianism.

The title character is meanly subjected to both, but the milquetoast resistance he puts up in response falls far short of anything heroic. Though plainly victimized by poverty and the scorn of his assumed social betters, Woyzeck, like the menagerie of peasants and commoners to which he is relegated, wholly adopts the aristocratic view.

"Do not feel obliged to make sense of all our choices," Landis hospitably offers in a program note. But for a play that is "often considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of dramatic literature," per the program, that is exactly what we have come to do.

Described as a "military barber," Woyzeck divides his time between Marie and their out-of-wedlock child, and his barracks friend Andres. He finds neither domestic satisfaction nor brotherhood with either, only opportunities to uncork fanatical ravings against himself, the church, and anything else smacking of orthodoxy or convention.

For additional income he submits to sadistic medical experiments, and this, plus the public humiliation he endures from a strutting Drum Major, take their eventual toll, and Woyzeck finally descends into crime.

Landis shepherds his lively student ensemble through the show with a Fellini-like flair for puppets, masks and pagan low comedy. The performance on the whole is excellently designed and executed. Their excitement is palpable and keeps Woyzeck bustling.

Patrick Gamache is excellent as Woyzeck and succeeds in keeping you drawn to the character, if not necessarily to admire or pity him. Erica Erikson is also top-notch, if somewhat misused, as the Captain: The play needs and calls for a bloated, pompous symbol of autocratic maltreatment, not a sultry and seductive temptress in an Armani suit. Erik Brevik as the Drum Major makes up the difference, projecting the egoistic pride and assuredness Woyzeck so sorely lacks.

Woyzeck is in many respects a remarkable document into the intellectual and cultural milieu of its time — but because of the faulty construction of its central character, not a great play as purported, which is an entirely different thing. Büchner's ambivalence, to which he has every right, works against him and leaves too much unresolved.

scene@csindy.com

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