In today’s desire to escape, there is an urgent need for more magical realism. The term was used within artistic criticism in the visual arts back in the 20s and quickly filtered into literature and theatre mostly for Latin American and European plays to describe works where realistic settings are splashed with elements that are too unusual to believe. This does not mean magical realism did not exist in theatre until after the 20s, the element of fantasy has been a part of Scandinavian literature since before Peer Gynt and writer Alex Van Warmerdam brings us a contemporary farcical yet naturalistic experience with Welcome To The Woods.
Truly disappointed with her marriage (press notes compare the piece to Revolutionary Road) Dora (Glory Gallo) runs away from conventionality in the quest to escape her husband. She is joined by her spitfire neighbor and ‘friend’ Fannie (Robin Riker) who is the mastermind of this escapade. What they find is a less-than-normal journey through branches and odd characters encountered in these woods -a bridge from their town to a new, better one -where Dora will become an individual. You would assume the woods are a quiet place, you might run into a few animals at best, not a talking elegant faun, an elf in a black suit, and a randy priest -only three of the multiple characters brought brilliantly to life by Jonathan Co Green.
Warmerdam is an actor and director’s dream, leaving them room in his writing to do (and not just speak) his words. He has a magical talent to mesh crisp and witty dialogue with absurdist situations. One of the stand-out moments being when the elf is letting Dora see for herself that he has no genitalia. Or when Fannie doesn’t want Dora to cuddle with her and the priest, she wants to keep him to herself.
The one-act slowly progresses from a light and oddly magical piece to a darkened portrait of let downs, deceit and despair. His message that problems should be dealt with and not run away from is heard loud and clear without hitting us over the head with it.
Glory Gallo portrays Dora with ease, bringing nuance and heart to the character. She fits into Warmerdam’s world beautifully, embracing unusual moments with honesty and genuine delight. You fall in love with her desperate attempt to escape a much-dreaded life and, by the time you find out what has been inevitably predetermined for her, the temperature in the Witzenhausen Gallery will drop, and not because of an adjustment to the thermostat. Robin Riker is also superb as Fannie. Riker conveys all the conflicting emotions of this silent monster, a woman whose middle name should be “Manipulation”. The two women play off each other like Agassi versus Federer. You never quite understand why these two women are friends, until devastating and juicy bits of Warmerdam’s story slither out.
Erwin Maas’ direction is a breath of fresh air, pushing his cast to extremes and taking the risk of almost crossing the line to the melodramatic, yet never reaching that dreaded outcome. What he orchestrates is a funny, devastating and eye-catching portrait. Mismatched chairs and lamps atop an organic stage work magically in the play’s favor. Finding harmony in the inharmonious seems to be the drive behind the set (Laura Jellinek) and lighting design (Tim Cyran).
If word of mouth is still what packs a show, you better hurry if you want to experience witty, unusual and honest theatre.
————The International Theatre Workshop presents Alex Van Warmerdam’s
Translated and directed by Erwin Maas
November 14-December 10, 2009
Tickets are $18.00. Wednesdays-Sundays at 8:00pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444.
Witzenhausen Gallery | 548 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor | Manhattan
Welcome To The Woods (Welkom In Het Bos)