Georg Büchner’s “Woyzeck” tells the story of a simple soldier humiliated by his Captain and tortured by a Doctor, who feeds him a strange diet (just peas) and notes with scientific delight the psychological aberrations he sees in his patient. Woyzeck submits to these torments to provide for his tiny child, though they seem to be driving him mad. His anchor is the beautiful Marie, the child’s mother. When Marie falls into the arms of a handsome drum major, Woyzeck snaps.
Oracle Theater has mounted a beautiful, poetic production of Büchner’s work, directed by Max Truax and choreographed by Lyndsay Rose Kane. The story unfolds like a strange dream: as we follow Woyzeck from the Captain’s quarters to the barracks to Marie’s home, we are never sure how much of what we see and hear comes from external reality, and how much from his troubled mind. The tilted, split-level stage adds to the atmosphere of unreality while flickering images on the back wall suggest the contents of Woyzeck’s imagination.
The play’s opening scene may be its strongest in terms of acting: the Captain (Sarah Shook) berates an increasingly agitated Woyzeck (Sean Patrick Ward), who has been shaving him. The Captain’s casual cruelty and the younger man’s escalating distress are excruciating to watch. Most subsequent scenes rely more heavily on exquisite combinations of movement, sound, and light than on character interaction, but the effect works. The play’s most emotional moment is also its most detached and dream-like: as Woyzeck imagines his beloved and the Drum Major having sex, the largely female cast performs a writhing, subterranean dance; to Woyzeck, the whole world has become Marie.
The one drawback to Oracle’s approach comes in the final scene. Performed with the production’s mix of the dreamlike and the violently real, the crucial moment feels somehow anticlimactic. This is a small flaw, however, in an well-made and visually enchanting play.