Go Deeper

Why “Woyzeck” Matters

Posted September 9th, 2011

It’s dark, it’s German and it has a funny name. So, why is Woyzeck so popular these days?

Woyzeck, the unfinished 1836 Georg Buchner play, is a trending topic in the performance arts world. In 2008, Philadelphia’s EgoPo started their season with a Fringe production of Woyzeck one month before Brooklyn’s BAM set the story to a score by the legendary Nick Cave. Earlier this year, Chicago presented the Woyzeck Project, a city-wide festival of performances dedicated to the play and New York City’s Homunculus Inc’s production of Woyzeck runs as part of the 2011 Philly Fringe through Sunday.

Woyzeck, often known as the first “working class play,” focuses on Franz Woyzeck, a German soldier who participates in medical experiments to provide for Marie, the woman he loves, and their child born out of wedlock. Because of these experiments, Woyzeck begins to experience visions and ends up killing Marie by stabbing her to death.

After the jump, Homunculus’s artistic director Zach Terbino and EgoPo’s Lane Savadove explain Woyzeck’s connection to the modern world.

“Despite being written in the 19th Century, I think Woyzeck is a play that deftly and powerfully speaks to 21st century audiences,” said Zach Terbino, Homunculus’s artistic director. “Its themes presciently echo our contemporary debates over the ethics of human-test subjects, stem cells, abortion, and other such issues, its depiction of the military resonates strongly with the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the governmentally sanctioned torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and other comparable military facilities, and the apocalyptic visions Woyzeck suffers bear striking similarities to the Book of Revelations and reflect our myths and fears about the ostensibly imminent apocalypse of 2012.”

Lane Savadove, EgoPo’s artistic director, agreed. “Woyzeck is important in terms of its place in theatrical history and how far ahead of its time it was. It’s important because of the shortened life of Buchner [who died before the play’s completion], because of its incomplete fragmentary nature and because it attempts to articulate the logical rules of an insane universe.”

Lane was pleased that Philadelphia audiences embraced Woyzeck. “I was surprised by how successful it was, both in terms of ticket sales and audience and press reaction. It definitely firmed up my belief that Philadelphia is ready for challenging and exciting work.”

If you missed EgoPo’s site-specific production at German Society Library or if you’re interested in another take on the play, Homunculus’s production is for you.

“Our production occurs in the not-too-distant future after a technological and economic fall-out where, as a result, society is returned to a state of technology akin to Buchner’s 19th Century Germany. This is a harsh, fragmented, and unforgiving world. People die young in this world–whether from disease, war, or intercommunity violence,” Zach explained. “As such, our cast is young. The casting of our production is totally non-traditional. Many of the roles normally performed by male actors–namely, the Captain and the Doctor among others–are female characters played by female actors. Something that’s really out of the ordinary? Our Doctor is portrayed as a pair of conjoined twins by two very petite women.”

Hesitant about taking on such a serious piece? Don’t be, according to Zach who directed the show. “Despite all the tragedy and violence of Buchner’s play, I think our production is very funny. It’s darkly comical. Of course, there are incredibly emotional moments as there should be, but I would be shocked if the audience didn’t laugh consistently throughout.”

Woyzeck runs through September 11th at the Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American Street, Kensington. Times vary. $14.

–Jennifer Leah Peck