What the heck was that?
This is the question that my theatre companion and I kept tossing back and forth as we walked to the subway after seeing this production.
After ruminating over this, I guess I would call it ‘A Theatrical’ – as in the noun defined as “a theatrical performance given by amateurs”. Although appearing as amateurs was not the intent – it was the end result.
This is a triptych on the subject of people who have left their homelands whether by choice or force. Karel is the story of a man telling the story of another man (so we are already once removed) who was sent from an unnamed country in Easter Europe in 1939. His parents sent him to England ‘for a month,’ and he never saw them again. He recalls the journey from the viewpoint of an adult who is remembering the story as it related to a horrible body rash that developed decades before he tells this story (now we are twice removed). There is a surprise ending, but otherwise the script is not compelling and Martin Moran is allowed to overact, wandering the stage like a circus ringmaster, indicating instead of embodying the story.
Next up we have the story of Elzbieta Czyzewska, a famous Polish actress who married the journalist David Halberstam in 1965 and moved to the US to endure half a century of misfortune. In Poland she was considered a turncoat, and in the US no one knew what in pigeonhole she could be placed. Her ultimate claim to fame is her portrait that hangs in the office of Andre Bishop, the Artistic Director of Lincoln Center. It is a well-executed and formidable portrait that hangs there because no one wanted to buy it. Lincoln Center is its foster home.
So she’s hanging in a theater where she’s never worked.
Typical Polish destiny.
For the next 40 or so minutes we sit thru a rundown of her life, which begins as sad and escalates to saddest. John Guare appears as himself and plays opposite Omar Sangare who gives live to Czyzewska with the subtlest of magic. . It turns out that both men knew Czyzewska- Guare since 1973 when he invited her to join a theatre company in Nantucket, and Sangare when he appeared with her in Six Degrees of Separation in Poland. While there she was poked and prodded by a dispassionate public who knew little about her, and she lived in a private lobby at the theatre, sleeping on a cot. She returned to the US, to her West 43 Street walk-up, and there she stayed. This is the story of a life that tried to be remarkable, but as told here it is anything but. This is a story you would hear someone telling at a party and from which you would extricate yourself as soon as possible.
Finally we are welcomes into the soggiest piece of the evening, the story of Witold Gombrowicz who through a series of mishaps ends up on the shores of Argentina just as Poland is being invaded by Germany. When he tries to enlist he is told he is too old (35). He chooses to stay and is embraced by the warm and happy Argentineans. He himself learns to be happy and a successful writer. It is the last few second of this story that are fascinating, and I would have loved to hear how this man became an expatriate in the wilds of Argentina. Instead we are given a nearly unintelligible story of fantasy and reality, of icons and demons, of fate and self determination. It is, in a word, gibberish. I salute this cast for carrying on and making the most of an unfortunate circumstance.
A peculiar evening that leaves the question, “What the heck was that?” unanswered.
"The play is so meandering that it continually baffles engagement."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Unfortunately there’s no intermission that would allow a discreet exit."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A wafer-thin evening made up of a trio of mini-works."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Three-part work is crafted by Guare in three markedly different styles that are unified by the theme of dislocation."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
External links to full reviews from popular press...