IN A SMALL GERMAN town at the beginning of the last century, a simple soldier, abused by his superiors and mocked by his fellows, suspects his mistress of infidelity and stabs her to death. The act is undeniably tragic, even fated, yet the soldier's motives remain unclear. Is the murder an act of passion, the frenzy of a man going mad, or an understandable reaction to a social degradation that has become unbearable?
Georg Buchner died at the age of 24 without answering this question about his character Woyzeck. The play stands as a skeleton, a series of 27 sketches which can be ordered to create either a clinical analysis or a predetermined tragic play. Although director Glen Bouchard has cut five scenes from the original manuscript and rearranged others, the Quincy House Theatricals' production of Woyzeck fails to arrive at a clear interpretation. The production opens with a socially oppressed Woyzeck, the constant object of his captain's moral lessons and his doctor's pointless experiments. But a few scenes later the director abruptly shifts his emphasis by showing a Woyzeck driven to murder the woman he loves because he assumed her infidelity based on the actual evidence. Meanwhile, Bouchard has also added two characters to the original script, a pair of mute, apparently insane figures who remain onstage on a raised wooden platform throughout the play. Whether these two silent figures, clutching at the empty air, represent Woyzeck's deteriorating mental state or whether they are intended as symbols of an extreme form of victimization remains unclear.
The Quincy House production succeeds best as an unresolved confrontation between a tortured man and a hostile world. Judith Swan's lighting is a simple contrast of brights and blackouts. The triptych designed by Roger Bardwell to represent the army barracks, doctor's office, and Woyzeck's home is appropriately pared down to a few wooden chairs and tables. The director's blocking is often awkward, but the physical, and frequently brutal, interactions of the characters on a practically bare stage produce powerful moments.
Glenn Turner's Woyzeck mirrors the strengths and weaknesses of the production, succeeding at isolated emotions but never really commanding his character. Turner is good as the victimized soldier, quietly bowing to his captain's abuse while even more quietly considering twisting the blade of the razor with which he shaves him. And Turner is equally good in the scene of the jealous lover, spitting out rage and a disgust of the flesh worthy of an Othello. But he does not convey Woyzeck's slow emotional deterioration and the enlightenment that should come with the consciousness of his own fall. The recognition that society has made "one thing after another" happen in his life is Woyzekc's realization which should tie the play together, but Turner mumbles the line like a man already beaten.
Turner fails to answer the questions about his character but Rebecca Landrum as Marie evades the problem of motivations entirely. Landrum, seducing the drum major and frightening her child to sleep, would like to be the emotional center of the play. But she remains a spoiled little girl fingering the earrings the major gives her throughout, succeeding in making even Woyzeck's love for her almost unconvincing.
The other actors skillfully fill in the details of Buchner's sketchy minor roles. Leo-Pierre Roy plays the parts of captain, sergeant, innkeeper, and pawnkeeper with equal comic grace. Christopher Agee is the model of a fiery young drum major interested only in getting his way, and Ann Strassner is especially good as Katey, the accomodating barmaid, trying to keep everyone happy while having a good time herself. But paradoxically it is Bonnie Ann DeLorme as the victimizing doctor who offers the most fully developed characterization. DeLorme's visible self-hatred as she forces Woyzeck to live on peas for the sake of her experiment is her private realization that society is cruel to give Woyzeck's growing delusions names instead of cures. DeLorme's sensitivity to Woyzeck's plight is her acceptance of her own guilt for Woyzeck's crime as well as the emotional crux of the play.
Woyzeck, the first experiment in modern tragedy, remains primitive in form, failing to satisfy the emotions with which it struggles. And the hesitant quality of the Quincy House production offers little to resolve the unpolished ambiguities of the text. But the stark direction releases the force of the conflicts involved, and sometimes that's enough.