BWW Reviews: Chekhov Meets Fellini in WHITE MARRIAGE at The Odyssey
Director Ron Sossi describes WHITE MARRIAGE by Polish Playwright Tadeusz Rozewicz as a fascinating mix of realism, fantasy, surrealism, farce, and the magical. After directing the show 35 years ago, Sossi felt it was time to bring the production back since most of the Odyssey's current audience has never seen it and thought they would find it as delightful as he does.
I am sorry to say this was not the case the night I attended as many in the audience seemed just as confused as I was trying to follow the storyline given the mixture of Chekhov characters and Fellini staging in Sossi's directing style. Many left at intermission, and I overheard several audience members asking each other questions during scene breaks, trying to figure out exactly what they were watching.
"The central theme is the battle between the part of us that is animal and uncontrolled - our sexual libido - and the part that wants to be civilized and orderly," says Sossi. "The play was written in 1975, but it's set before the turn of the 20th century in a kind of Chekhovian environment, a society that revolves around manners, fashion and mores. But always surrounding their world is the forest, filled with animal, natural urges."
The theme is clear. It's just too bad the presentation caused so much confusion as to exactly what was being presented. Even the cast seemed unhappy during their curtain calls, so perhaps I was just there on an off night.
Set in Poland circa 1890, WHITE MARRIAGE is a surreal and erotic coming-of-age fairytale that follows a young girl's poignant emergence into womanhood and frightened resistance to her impending marriage. Two sisters, sensitive Bianca (Kate Dalton) and precocious Pauline (Emily Goss), are on the verge of adulthood. Bianca is betrothed to Benjamin (Austin Rogers) and the preparations for her imminent wedding send the girls into a flurry of excitement and confusion. With the adult world spinning around them, the two respond in wildly different ways to the strange discoveries they are making about the mysterious business of sex.
Pauline has the most comical bit in the show as she describes how she loves to fart like men do, making her feel equal to their animalistic nature and behavior. Her vivid descriptions and pure joy in her wickedness created wonferful moments of expression for Emily Goss, making her a treat to behold. This was also true when each of the characters looked into the audience as if we were a mirror, each letting us know exactly how they felt about their own true image. As each looked into the mirror, we were allowed to see into their soul for an unguarded moment.
It seems her parents' marriage is not the greatest example for poor Bianca, and their behavior certainly does not make her anxious to give up her cherished virginity to the animal nature of man. Their father (John Apicella) chases after any woman, most often the poor Cook (Sharon Powers) who runs screaming across the stage trying to escape from his ongoing sexual demands several times during the show. His long-suffering wife (Diana Cignoni) is disgusted by her husband's animalistic behavior and overactive libido, and admits he overpowers her against her will as often as he can.
And her Grandfather (Mark Bramhall) sets the worst example of all, also chasing after as many women as he can, even though his heart cannot take the strain. So he turns to his own granddaughter Pauline to satisfy his sexual longings, but at least she is smart enough to put the brakes on when it comes to actually touching her private parts. Pauline is certainly open to learning how to use her sexuality to feel the power she has over men. Their relationship is meant to be disturbing, and though we never actually see them playing together, the descriptions Pauline provides certainly will fill your mind with images you would rather forget. On the eve of his marriage to her sister Bianca, Pauline acts out one of their fantasy scenes and nearly gives poor virginal Benjamin a heart attack.
Now imagine all those scenes played out with most of the characters in animal masks eating life pigs at a trough while floating penises fill the stage and you get the idea of how offbeat the staging is at times.
The girls' Aunt (Beth Hogan) is a much more modern woman, admitting that she never wears bloomers because she feels more free. So even though her dress seems conservative, she is anything but and Hogan masterfully makes this character one of the more interesting in the show. She and Pauline are open to their sexuality and see nothing wrong with allowing their inner animal natures out for their own enjoyment, while Bianca and her mother represent the uptight and suppressed Upper Class women of the time.
Lighting Designer Derrick McDaniel offsets the fantasy scenes with much darker hues, while Sound Designer Martin Carrillo fills the theater with lovely and soothing outdoor sounds. Ovation Award-winning Costume Designer A. Jeffrey Schoenberg adds touches of realism to the basic character costumes and the adds in outrageous animal masks, each one a perfect compliment to the character inhabiting it.
Performances of WHITE MARRIAGE (in a translation by Adam Czerniawski) take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 25. Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on April 23 and May 7, and on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on May 1, May 15 and May 22. Tickets are $25 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and $30 on Saturdays and Sundays. There will be four pay-what-you-can (minimum $10) performances on April 11, April 18 (wine night), April 23 and May 16 (wine night). The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com.