Review: Ubu II–Electric Boog-Ubu, or Free Ubu (The Plagiarists)

| September 14, 2017

Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 6            


Ubu II
Adapted by Gregory Peters
   from play by Alfred Jarry 
at Berger Park, 6205 N. Sheridan (map)
thru Sept 30  |  tix: $15-$20  |  more info    
Check for half-price tickets   


As in 1896 French satire, greed, chaos and lust for power
come to roost in America


Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 4

The Plagiarists presents
Ubu II: Electric Boog-Ubu, or Free Ubu

Review by Johanna Dalton

Like Ubu enchaîné, Alfred Jarry’s satirical exploration of power, greed and evil practices during the late 19th century, Ubu II: Electric Boog Ubu or Free Ubu posits a world where conventional social and cultural norms are no longer observed. Under Nick Freed’s capable direction, this Plagiarists production is a sequel to their 2013 adaptation, King Ubu, and it brings Ubu, the King of Poland, to America. Although at first blush (an appropriate reaction) the play seems to be an inexplicably depraved romp through such weirdness as prolonged farts from dead bodies, ugly debauchery, and malicious anger, there is much more going on. Overlapping metaphors include liberty in chains, freedom achieved through slavery, rampant commercialism, and a belief that one can shape life to one’s own reality, all of which raise echoes of ongoing issues in today’s society.

Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 5The action flows from Ubu and Mrs. Ubu’s arrival in America, seeking escape from the disgrace and failure they experienced in Poland, and from the pervasive anger and dissatisfaction they continue to feel that frequently boils over between them. Mrs. Ubu offers the only quasi-realistic assessment of Mr. Ubu’s delusion, providing the barest of rudders in the storm he creates. In this strange new land, they encounter the Captain, who leads an aggressive militant/Fascist group, and a character called Uncle, who is delivering his virgin ‘niece’ Liberty (in chains) to marry the Captain.

The Ubus evoke no empathy, but also harbor no hypocrisy as they showcase, with disturbing clarity, not only our basest human elements but, moreover, our seeming complacency with the result. In contrast, Uncle is the epitome of hypocrisy and misogyny as well. The Captain attempts to cover up his insecurity by bullying his Freeman followers, who in turn seem to crave an order to obey. There are two spokespersons who employ Jarry’s use of the “commercial break” to serve as a kind of Greek chorus, interacting with the audience rather than narrating. They also introduce yet another agenda, that of commercial self-interest.

The three key male characters who move the play forward all want to subjugate Liberty: Mr. Ubu by defiling her, the Captain by possessing her, and Uncle by profiting from her betrothal. Through the course of events, Ubu is thrown in jail, where he seizes the opportunity to extoll his belief in “new science,” a reflection of Jarry’s Pantaphysics or “the science of imaginary solutions” which evokes the now-widespread references to fake news and alternative facts. It is there that he shapes his plot to destroy the world, his ultimate victory. A chance to do so comes his way unexpectedly, leaving one to wonder—could this really happen?

Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 6Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 3 Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 7Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 9a

Quoting Wallace Shawn, playwright and artistic director Gregory Peters reminds us:

“In fact, there is no action so manifestly evil that it cannot be seen and described as a justifiable and purely defensive measure. But none of this should be allowed to confuse us. And it is true also that if we ourselves have any sympathy or any affection for people—if we like people—we will be fond of many who treat morality with utter indifference, including people whose personal histories make their indifference most understandable. Morality happens to be a protection which we need in order to avoid total historical disaster, and so we are obliged to maintain a constant, precise awareness of how morality is faring in the world.”

In Ubu land, not so well – leading to the question of just how well morality is faring in America at this point in our political and cultural history.

The cast as an ensemble does an amazing job of creating a sustained state of chaos where anger and frustration fester and lash out unchecked. Playwright Gregory Peters’ work defies summation, his script dropping the audience into the middle of this war zone, as if to startle us awake to its presence in the world around us. Peters (Mr. Ubu) and Jessica Saxvik (Mrs. Ubu) provide standout performances that carry the play. The simple set (Noël Dominique Straley) and costumes (Emma Cullimore), chaotic in themselves, function in beautiful, discomfiting ugliness. For some, there are moments of satirical laughter, while the overall confusion is a bit like a brain freeze. When it wears off, however, for some, it will leave an irresistible compulsion to look back and squeeze its images and ideas for all the insights and truth they can yield.

Rating: ★★½

Ubu II continues through September 30th at Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $15-$30, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 1

Photos by Joe Mazza 




Clara Byczkowski (Spokesperson 1), Allison Dexter Grischow (Liberty, Jack), Jyreika Guest (Spokesperson 2), Raymond Jacquet (Freeman 2), Derik Marcussen (Uncle, Bronfman), Stephen McClure (Captain), Gregory Peters (Ubu), Jessica Saxvik (Mrs. Ubu), Julia Stemper (Freeman 3), Nick Strauss (Freeman 1)

behind the scenes

Nick Freed (director), Christina Casano (stage manager), Emma Cullimore (costume designer), John Jacobsen (lighting designer), Paul Kastner (assistant director), Brendan Monte (sound designer), Noël Dominique Straley (set and props designer), Gregory Peters (playwright, artistic director), James Snyder, Jack Dugan Carpenter (production managers), Elissa Shortridge, Joe Mazza (photos) 

Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists 9Ubu II Electric Boogubu, or Free Ubu by The Plagiarists poster


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Berger Park Coach House, Johanna Dalton, New Work, Plagiarists, World Premier

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