Schweyk in the
Second World War
Red Theater’s inaugural production’s an ambitious spectacle
|Red Theater presents|
|Schweyk in the Second World War|
Review by Katy Walsh
In its inaugural production, Red Theater presents Schweyk in the Second World War. Schweyk is a regular at the local tavern. He’s an opinionated, big talker. Among his barfly peers, when he shoots off his mouth, it isn’t a problem. They’re use to it. But the visiting German Gestapo take issue to his loose tongue. His aversion to silence gets him in all kinds of trouble. Yet, he can’t shut up! Schweyk in the Second World War attacks as a loud, garish spectacle.
The new Red Theater Company debuts with puppets, a band, and fourteen actors. It’s an ambitious undertaking on such a small stage. And it’s too much. Director Aaron Sawyer clutters the stage with a lot of stuff. Not so much a lot stuff going on, more people and furniture piled on top of each other. Often the speaking cast members are just surrounded by their peers loitering in the background. In one scene, the Gestapo is talking on an intercom to his secretary. Instead of a voiceover, Sawyer stages it with her a few feet away. It’s confusing. On multiple occasions, Sawyer chooses to have a lot of unnecessary people, puppets or props on stage. It muddles the plot and blurs the focus.
Playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote a comical take on a loud-mouthed civilian’s interaction with the Gestapo. It’s part “Hogan’s Heroes” and part SNL sketch. With all the bells and whistles of this production, the potential for comedy isn’t always actualized. Kevin Cox (Schweyk) does a fine job delivering lengthy oration with it’s underlying absurdity. The best parts of the show are the relational interactions with Cox and Jared McDaris (Bullinger) and Cox and Gage Wallace (Prochazka). It’s a hilarious Hogan and Klink match-up with McDaris. And Cox and Wallace run a witty scam on some unsuspecting gals. These stripped-down moments allow the actors space to act and zing the punchline. Without the distractions of multiple folk songs, dancing and puppet villains, the story’s clever premise is engaging.
It’s not that I’m a musical or puppet hater. In fact, the dog puppets created by Kim Chelf are absolutely adorable and pets I’d consider owning. It just seems like Red Theatre decided to unveil their new company with every theatrical element imaginable in Schweyk in the Second World War. I appreciate the creative enthusiasm, but less is more. I look forward to seeing how Red evolves.
Schweyk in the Second World War continues through November 11th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays and Mondays at 7pm. Tickets are $28, and are available by phone (773.327.5252) or online through Stage773.com More information at RedTheater.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Kevin Cox (Schweyk), Kara Davidson (Mrs. Kopecka), Aaron Sawyer* (Baloun), Gage Wallace* (Prochazka), Christopher Paul Mueller (Hitler), Chris Bott (Brettschneider), Jared McDaris (Bullinger/Chaplain), Kim Chelf* (Anna), Sydney Ray* (Kati), Kate Carson-Groner (accordion, ensemble), Gus Steiner, Chris Fowler, Sabrina Conti, Justin Warren (ensemble)
behind the scenes
Aaron Sawyer* (director); Kim Chelf* (managing director); John Gleason Teske (asst. director); Daniel Haymes* (stage director); Milan Pribisic (dramaturg); Dr. William Grange (German Notary); Nicholas Davio and Mike Evans (original music); Creative Nests (choreography); Daniel Haymes* (set); Nicole Malmquist (lighting); Matthew Lott (costumes); Samuel Brown (sound); Holly McCauley (props); Rebecca Flores (audience relations); Shout! Media (marketing); Jen L’amour Dorman (graphics)
* denotes company member