Review: WOYZECK at Black Box PAC

The company of the Black Box PAC stage Neil LaBute's adaption of Georg Buchner's posthumously completed 19th Century play.

By: Oct. 27, 2022
Review: WOYZECK at Black Box PAC
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With slashing season in full swing, a dose of heartbreak in a cauldron mixed with humiliation is the perfect poisonous recipe to make an evildoer out of the most cherubic of souls. That, and a diet of nothing but peas may constitute the very force that drives a paranoic's sanity to slip along with the knife and do the unthinkable: showing their two-timing lover the same heartless courtesy they've shown them. Stabbing their former beloved in the heart. Literally.

Review: WOYZECK at Black Box PAC

So goes the plot in playwright Georg Buchner's haunting and grotesque psychological drama "Woyzeck." The play's adaption by modern playwright Neil LaBute, (creator of Van Helsing and the award-winning "In the Company of Men," which was adapted into a movie in 1997 and ran the Sundance Film Festival circuit) was staged by the versatile cast of the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood under the artistic direction of Matt Okin. Woyzeck was directed by Michael Gardiner, who played the lead.

Written in 1836 and finished posthumously, the play is set in Germany where a lonely soldier named Franz Woyzeck (Gardiner) is tormented by suspicions that his siren live-in girlfriend and mother of his only child Marie (Ilana Schimmel) is cheating on him with a tall, dark, handsome and debonair drum major (Matthew Ferrara) whose chest of an ox she finds irresistible. The lustful flings are taking place in the same fashion as most of them do in real life: Woyzeck is hard at work at menial jobs for the Captain (Arthur Gregory Pugh) to support his family. He's not only made a fool of by his significant other, but is a lab rat of sorts of The Doctor, a bespectacled eccentric (Danielle MacMath) who uses him as a subject in a medical experiment where he agrees to eat only peas.

Woyzeck's gross lack of nutrition from the experiment and the stress from his fading romance creeps up on him, and he slips into an anxiety-induced psychosis, plagued with apocalyptic visions and intense, sporadic bouts of anger directed at the man moving in on his woman. Though he loses touch with reality, his psychotic jealousy and suspicions are valid. As the lyrics of Kurt Cobain's "Stay Away" insist: "Just because you're paranoid, don't mean they're not after you."

Review: WOYZECK at Black Box PAC

"The world," Woyzeck says, "is hot as hell, and I'm ice cold," a nod to Robert Frost's notable poem, "Fire and Ice," written about how the end of the world will look like - up in flames from desire or iced over from hatred. When the ailing Woyzeck approaches his girlfriend's mister, the poor chap gets his dignity quashed before getting the shit kicked out of him. After suffering auditory hallucinations of disembodied voices hauntingly calling his name, which the cast (which also includes Joey Liberti and Anne Elizabeth Miele) eerily utters in unison, he imposes a meeting with Marie, clad in a form-fitting red dress, and manages to isolate her in the placid greenery by a pond. At this point, her death is predictable, as Woyzeck turns her attention to the blood moon.

"You won't feel the dew come morning," he says half-joking, before viciously pulling out a knife and stabbing her in the heart multiple times as she spends the last moments of her life in excruciating screams. A "Joker" moment ensues as he cackles deliriously following the homicide.

Mirroring typical horror stories, the most spine-tingling part of the play is the final scene as it makes the audience think. The Captain is being shaved by Woyzeck's only true friend (Tristan Strasser) who is dragging the blade gingerly across his face, careful not to cut him. The Captain utters sagacious advice as they engage in barbershop small-talk which gets deep, fast: "If you're going to kill someone, do it slowly," he says creepily, favoring mindful torture over senseless savagery.

Black Box PAC is located at 49 E Palisade Ave, Englewood, NJ 07631. For tickets and more information, please visit https://www.blackboxpac.com/ or call 201.569.2070.

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF BLACK BOX PAC



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