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AS THE LIGHTS came down, and several white-clad figures slipped onstage, a man down the row exclaimed, "Oh yeah, this has gotta be theater of the absurd." That happened at the beginning of the evening's second play, Peter Handke's I Came Into the World, last weekend at the Caravan, but the guy was wrong: it was the theater of the exaggerated, the boring, and the awkward.
The exaggerated part was Aili Singer's performance as the Jewish wife of a gentile doctor early in the Third Reich. Preparing to leave the country (to make things easier for her husband), she incessantly purses her lips and tenses her fingers through a series of phone calls to friends, then shouts her way through an imagined dialogue with the absent husband. A friend of mine who spent several weeks of a drama workshop on this Brecht play tells me that this difficult role ought to be played down, and I think he's right. But Singer just keeps pouring it on, repeating the same nervous pauses and tense jerkings until none of them mean very much.
The script is not very subtle--the husband comes in at the end and reacts to his wife's plans just as selfishly as she thought he would, pretending that "it's only for a couple of weeks" she'll be gone, that the Nazis will soon pass, etc.--but director Joann Green has so extended the initial segments and so truncated the last, and David Starr Klein so flattened the doctor's role, that the conclusion becomes even less satisfying.
THE EVENING'S BORING segment comes with the play by Handke, who is now enjoying popularity on the New York stage with his longer and presumably more interesting Kaspar. Here four white figures emerge beneath what appears to be a giant morning glory about to devour the piano. Each announces, "I came into the world..." and begins a work which consists of nothing but confessional sentences beginning with "I." Amid a set that looks like Design Research kindergarten toys, the actors deliver such lines as "I learned to distinguish between nouns and verbs," "I appropriated property in disregard of the general welfare," "I opened my eyes during sexual intercourse." It's all very interesting--for the first three minutes.
The four actors speak and move in excellent coordination; it's simply that they drive a pretty good idea beyond its limits. Flashing slides of the actors' faces across the stage must have been somebody's favorite gimmick, but it doesn't have any place in the Harvard-Epworth Church, where the click of the projector is clearly audible to the audience. That, together with scratchy, muffled tapes of the actors' voices is enough to make anyone lose his faith in multi-media.
The awkwardness of the whole evening is a combination of too much for too long, and in the wrong places. We have had excellent productions in the past from Caravan, but now that it's officially spring there are more interesting things to do than go to their latest.
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