On Nov. 9, the UCSB Department of Theatre and Dance kicked off its 2007-2008 dramatic season with the opening of “Woyzeck.” The tragedy was written by German playwright Georg Büchner in the last days of his life and was later reorganized by various editors and translators. The script was left in such disarray due to Büchner’s untimely death that no one is sure what order he originally intended the scenes to play in. Thus, there are many versions of the play today, but the story is equally compelling in each.
Theatre UCSB presents “Woyzeck” as translated by Gideon Lester. Friedrich Woyzeck is a young German soldier whose sanity teeters dangerously on the edge of a knife. A poor man, Woyzeck shaves his captain and participates in an eccentric doctor’s experiments to earn a little extra money. Forced to eat nothing but peas for three months, Woyzeck’s mental and physical health deteriorates, while paranoia about his mistress’ infidelity eats away at him. When he discovers his suspicions are true, his emotional and mental distress consumes him, and he falls into pit of insanity.
The story of “Woyzeck” is based on the trial of Johann Christian Woyzeck, who pled insanity when convicted of the murder of his mistress. His unusual plea did not prevent his execution, but it aroused much debate as to whether insanity was a legitimate factor to be considered when making decisions in the judicial arena.
Matthew Horn is a junior in the acting Bachelor of Fine Arts and plays a convincing Woyzeck. His running on and off the stage and his effusiveness of emotion effectively portray his character’s high-strung mentality. Jessie Sherman, a senior in the acting BFA, plays his passionate and troubled mistress, who cheats on him with the drum major, a portrait of masculinity played by Dakotah Brown, a junior in the acting BFA. Also impressive were performances by Rudy Martinez and Samantha Posey; they were a most exemplary human imitation of a monkey and a horse, respectively. By adopting the physical demeanor and behavior of the non-human beings, both actors portrayed their creature characters in a most amusing and persuasive way.
Of the technical aspects of the play, the lighting is something worth noting. The colors of the lights captured the mood of the overall play, as well as each specific scene.
“The variation of dark blues is meant to give an eerie, melancholy feeling to match the depressing plot,” Adaeze Uyanwah, a fourth-year theater major who worked as an electrician assistant in the play, said.
A looming moon serves as the principal instrument in depicting the mood of each scene. Its varying hues alter according to the atmosphere of the setting. It glows brightly to depict night and then yields to a soft yellow when the scene moves indoors. On the night of the murder, it is blood red. The lights alone can tell the story.
With a compelling plot, a cast of commendable actors and a highly complementary technical staff, “Woyzeck” is a theatrical success in every way. It looks like Theatre UCSB is off to a fantastic season.