Saturday, November 13, 2010

Notes from Underground

"Notes from Underground" presented by Theatre for a New Audience at Jerome Robbins Theatre, November 13, 2010

Adapted from the Dostoevsky novella by actor Bill Camp and director Robert Woodruff, Russian existentialism returns to the New York stage.

In this production, the unnamed Man (Mr. Camp) has withdrawn from society resigning his civil service job after receiving a sizable inheritance.  Torn in a paranoid struggle to accept his mediocrity vs. the noble life for which a man should strive, he confesses his insecurities via webcam alternately whining at his weakness and railing against others.  It starts out like a 19th century Spalding Gray but spins quickly off that track.

Mr. Camp's brings us a Man very much like his Misanthrope in Ivo Van Hove's production at New York Theatre Workshop a few years go.  He screams and sobs, slovenly slurping down drinks like an undiagnosed diabetic.  The use of the web cam and other strategically placed cameras projects close-ups and visual angles across the stark white set.  This technique provide dramatic effects unachievable in standard theatre craft.  Still, despite the clever use, it feels like more of a distraction from the theatricality rather than an enhancement.  Mr. Woodruff directs the action like Italian cinema with extended pauses and ponderous moments, underscored with odd musical tracks. 

Perhaps the event might have made more sense as a film instead of a play.  The material, with its focus on the working of the Man's mind might have been better served in that format.

Production values are strong.  David Zinn's white set, layered in snow (it is set in St. Petersburg, by the way) creates a sterile cave into which the Man has sentenced himself.  Mark Barton's lighting plays on the set to morph the cave into a cage as  the Man devolves.

Notes from Underground runs through November 20.

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