Go Deeper

REACTION: Welcome to Jo Strømgren’s The European Lesson

Posted September 1st, 2008

Welcome to The European Lesson. This theatrical lecture, delivered by an amateur anthropologist (Jeb Kreager), gives spectators an inside look at quotidian family life in Slovakia. He cites the World’s Fair exhibitions in which imitation American Indian villages were built and actors were hired to portray tribespeople, all for the sake of the viewers. “For shame,” he says. He explains that his lecture will feature real Slovaks, and that the most valuable anthropological research can be done by observing the subjects in their natural habitat, as they move through their quotidian routines. He acknowledges that he does not have a degree, but believes that one can learn more in the field than in the academe.

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<%image(20080901-JJ Euro Catharine + Cromie.jpg|350|233|Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou/>The curtain is drawn and Kreager’s subjects. They not your standard nuclear family—there’s Stefan (John Zak) and Zuzka (Catharine Slusar), a married couple, their nephew Yanush (Aaron Cromie), and his clairvoyant fiancé, Micah (Sarah Sanford). I’ve never seen real Slovaks in action, but this fine group of performers offers a brilliant caricature of a certain Central European prototype that we’ve seen in movies, and maybe on trips abroad. The physical and verbal expressions of these people are exaggerated as if to mock the perspective of the unknowing foreigner.

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In trademark Strømgren fashion, they speak a Slovakian-inspired gibberish, a combination of nonsensical sounds and expressions from a Slovakian phrasebook, but the audience is none the wiser. Like tourists in a foreign country, we can rely only on their faces and bodies to decipher what is happening. This makes every smirk, scowl, and exclamation seem incredibly significant—until Kreager employs his magic clicker tool. Then, the actors freeze.

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During the pause, Kreager explains or interprets, if necessary, the scene. As a plotline of cuckoldry and deceit unfolds, Kreager increasingly takes the liberty of interfering with the supposedly controlled environment. He adjusts the actors’ facial expressions, shifts their limbs about, and carries them around the stage, re-positioning them as if they were his own four-piece doll collection. If only life were so simple.

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When his subjects’ compliance with his hair-brained scheme wanes, things become even more interesting. As the situation escalates, so does the tremendous physical comedy. There is even a brief dance interlude! I will say no more. This is one hell of a show. See The European Lesson—you won’t be disappointed.

Photos by Jacques-Jean Tiziou. Visit JJ’s website at See more photos from The European Lesson at our Flickr site.

The European Lesson continues through this Saturday at the black box beside the Festival Bar, at 5th and Fairmount.

Remaining shows:
9/3 at 7pm
9/4 at 8pm
9/5 at 8pm
9/6 at 2pm + 10pm

Click here for tickets and more information about the show.