Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians

A COUPLE OF POOR, POLISH-SPEAKING ROMANIANS by Dorota Maslowska. Translated by Benjamin Paloff. Adapted by Lisa Goldman and Paul Sirett. Produced by Pete Nettell and Alice Livingstone for Focus Theatre, in association with Newtown Theatre.

A desperate couple, Parcha (Neil Phipps) and Dzina (Mairead Berne), claiming to be poor, Polish-speaking Romanians, hijack and kidnap a driver (Kim Knuckey) and his car, trying to get "home". They harass him in a most intimidating way and in growing 'middle class' hysteria the driver concedes to their demands.Later they abandon the car and driver, unaccountably rewarding him with a large sum of money. The couple find a bar and attempt to seek aid from the staff and owners (Sandy Velini, Cheryl Ward and John Keightley) - but they are mocked and rejected. Back on the road's margin they manage to hitch a ride with a vodka-swigging woman driver (Cheryl Ward) and end up taking refuge with an old man (John Keightley) in a run down house. Here the play ends and our two protagonists face the realities of their selves.

The couple are dressed in clothing of great poverty and distress. Both have mouthfuls of what look like rotten teeth. However, through the journey, Parcha gradually, in explanation, reduces the 'rotten teeth' to teeth covered in marzipan, to teeth covered in marker pen. Progressively the audience come to realise that these are two 'ravers', refugees from a costume party whose theme was "extreme poverty: rats, scabs and scroungers", high as kites, dressed as two poor, Polish speaking Romanians, attempting to get 'home'.

The journey across this landscape of the new Poland is one that is vivid in a highly critical and, occasionally, surreal-absurdist imagination with a penchant for cruel comic situations. The picture painted is one of impoverishment in both the material and spiritual realms of the human condition, where greed, racism, paranoia and entrenched selfishness reign supreme. Ms Maslowska, in this translation (Benjamin Paloff) and adaptation (Lisa Golman and Paul Sirett) for the Soho Theatre (March, 2008) , has a great ear for the comic and confronting but the direction of the play by Alice Livingstone seems to be over-pitched and focused on the caricature/cartoonishness of the situations and characters. A kind of ungrounded hysteria and a foreknowledge that the play is a black shaggy dog adventure seems to influence the direction and place the actors in what appear to be unmotivated realities, and rather a satiric revue sketch in a cabaret form. It all appears to be a trifle too self conscious and becomes a frenetic rant and exhibition of stylistic tricks. By the time we reach the tragic last moments of this play I had been disengaged/befuddled for quite some time and witnessed the end in a bewildered state of not really caring. Or even understanding. The 'joke' of the play had not been set up accurately for most of the audience in this production for it to have meaningful power.

Dorota Maslowska is a young Polish novelist who has made quite an impressive entrance in that field. This introduction to her playwriting is interesting, although, if this is typical, of the tone of the novels as well, one is not sure if it is just a rebellious youthful 'spray' at her culture or a serious critique.

All the actors within the limits of the directorial vision acquit themselves with aplomb. Skill and discipline. Mr. Phipps was particularly arresting, the clarity of wit in the text was delivered consistently and with great, but, controlled energy -even when it felt stylistically over played. Ms Berne attempts to find the justification for her character's final moments, but it is a bit of a battle for her, as it gets lost in the distracting plethora of offers that Ms Livingstone encourages from the other performers.

The Set Design by Gemma-Lark Johnson is simple and grim with a piled heap of used car tyres braced behind a buckled road barrier, giving us the sense of the 'road-movie' structure of the play, in a blackened, depressed landscape of floor and walls. The cars are simply four chairs and a hand held steering wheel, a simple but effective solution. The costumes (Alice Livingstone) are witty and apt. The Lighting Design by Teegan Lee is particularly good considering the limited resources apparent.

It is always interesting to meet a new playwright. It is accumulatively interesting to meet a contemporary writer from Eastern Europe. That it is also a female voice, certainly raises the curiosity and value.

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