This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal
Georg Büchner’s “Woyzeck” is famously an unfinished play, left in fragments when the German playwright died in 1837 at the age of 23. It has been performed and adapted many times in the centuries since, becoming a standard of the German – and (in translation) American – stage.
Now, the Austin Jewish Repertory Theater presents “W.,” an adaptation by playwright Zachary Christman that stars Joey Hood in an intense one-man show. “W.,” playing through Aug. 27 at the Trinity Street Players’ black box theater, puts Hood through his paces as he takes on a variety of characters and personas to depict Büchner’s dark classic.
“Woyzeck” tells the story of its titular protagonist, a young man used and abused by both the military and the medical establishment. His harassment at the hands of superiors, doctors and his own wife slowly take a toll, drawing him into a web of jealousy and anger that ends violently and decisively.
Christman’s adaptation is serviceable, if not remarkable, but it succeeds in providing a vehicle for a staggering performance. Throughout the intense hourlong show, Hood portrays seven characters, as well as a few animals for good measure. With minimal costuming, he clearly evokes the differing – and often conflicting – personalities and desires of these individuals, relying upon voice, physicality and full mental embodiment to make each character distinct and unique.
Scott Ferguson’s scenic design and Jenny Lavery’s lighting effectively serve as Hood’s scene partners, allowing for the creation of specific locations through simple set pieces and clear lighting choices, while composer Tyler Mabry’s original score underlines the entire performance. Director Adam Roberts pulls these threads together to weave a cohesive tapestry that keeps Hood forever at its center, showcasing his prodigious talent.
“W.” is not the strongest adaptation of “Woyzeck” ever put on the stage, but ultimately the script is less important than the production and the actor performing it. Austin Jewish Repertory has both a strong production and, in the phenomenally adaptable Hood, an amazing actor giving a muscular, energetic and heart-wrenching performance, making “W.” a show worth seeing.
“W.” continues through Aug. 27; austinjewishrep.org.