"100 Years of Political Theatre, Series A"

A too-long two-act play launches this "one-act" festival

Eastenders' fifth annual One-Act Festival has a political theme this year. The troupe offers a century's worth of dissident playwriting, from early Soviet Russia through South Africa to the present-day United States. But the first thing to point out about The Bedbug -- a satire by Vladimir Mayakovsky that kicks things off in "Series A" (there are three "series," or nights, to choose from) -- is that it's not a one-act: It has an intermission. As a satire of communist Russia it's also not very funny. A true-believing Soviet bureaucrat in 1929 falls into a deep freeze and wakes up 50 years later, in a 1979 imagined by Mayakovsky to be sterile and almost robotic, where functionaries vote after being plugged in. Compared to these hollow men, the bureaucrat, Prisypkin, resembles Dean Martin after a bender. He wears a rumpled tuxedo -- loose bow tie, untucked shirt, infested with a still-living bedbug -- and likes to drink and smoke. The 1979 Russians put him in a zoo as a specimen of "bourgeois man." The concept is funny, but director Susan Evans should have cut the script radically for a one-act festival. Her cast overplays, diluting all the humor in a mess of forced vehemence and exaggerated gestures, and a lot of the satire is dated. The play exhausts the audience for The Informer, a one-act by Bertolt Brecht from his longer Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. Two German parents, with a portrait of Hitler on the wall, worry that their son has reported them to the Hitler Youth for expressing "reckless" opinions. The acting here is better; Jeff Thompson and Suzan A. Kendall don't have to force their lines, and director Charles E. Polly captures the Germans' ennui. But after Mayakovsky we're not in the mood.

 
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