BWW Review: Upstream Theater's Delightful Slice of History SWEET REVENGE
SWEET REVENGE, with the subtitle of: "as performed by the Julius Slowacki Players, Saint Louis, 1933," is a delightful look back at our city's own Polish heritage. Artistic Director Philip Boehm translates ZEMSTA by playwright Aleksander Fredo, but gives the work a twist by showing us how the troupe, which ceased performing in 1959, would have staged the piece, albeit, in English. This is an enjoyable romp that's amusing, and supposedly based on a true bit of history that Fredo ran across. Boehm's translation maintains Fredo's clever rhyming scheme, which gives it a playful, lighthearted air.
Czesnik is at odds with his neighbor Milczek over a wall that's being erected. He's also set his sights on marrying two-time widow Hanna. His ward, Klara, is in love with Milczek's son, Waclaw, which seems to be a doomed affair due to Czesnik and Milczek's utter disdain for one another. Besides, Milczek would rather see his son marry Hanna. Naturally, this is a broad farce, and once the peculiar character of Papkin enters, you quickly realize that much craziness will ensue.
Whit Reichert has an incredibly short fuse as Czesnik, constantly enraged, either by his neighbor, or the braggadocio of Papkin, who he employs in a variety of ways, despite his buffoonery. John Contini is decidedly more pious, in a menacing sort of way, as Milczek, making the pair two different sides of the same coin. Jane Paradise is filled with lust as the voracious widow Hanna, dressed in mourning clothes, but aggressive in her pursuit of Waclaw. Pete Winfrey (Waclaw) and Caitlin Mickey (Klara) both bring a youthful excitement to the shared passion inherent in their roles, and Eric J. Connors fills in admirably in a number of parts, but most prominently as Dyndalski, Czesnik's majordomo. John Bratkowski steals the show as Papkin, who prattles on about his supposedly brave deeds while ducking real trouble at every turn. Bratkowski first appeared onstage with the Slowacki Dramatic Circle as a child, so he not only understands this material, and the approach that is being taken, but has an ancestral connection to it as well.
Director/writer Philip Boehm brings a splendidly light touch to this work, allowing the humor to flow through unabated, as his cast romps through this unique piece of history. Patrick Huber's scenic design maintains the theatricality of the piece with an actual curtain, and scenic artists provide a suitable backdrop for the locale. The onstage set is simple and functional in keeping with the idea that we are actually watching a performance from the past. Steve Carmichael nicely lights the action, and Laura Hanson does lovely work on the costumes, which conjure up the era depicted.
Upstream Theaters production of SWEET REVENGE is an entertaining slice of theatre history, that shines a light on a forgotten, but important piece of local Polish culture. The show continues through October 22, 2017 at the Kranzberg Arts Center.
Photo credit ProPhotoSTL