An effective 'Woyzeck' from New York's solid CSC Repertory

Woyzeck, Leonce and Lena, Plays by George Buchner. Directed by Christopher Martin for CSC Repertory. It's been a serious season for the CSC Repertory. They began with the Oedipus Cycle of Sophocles, which is not exactly carefree, and proceeded to "Gilles de Rais" by Roger Planchon, a fractured melodrama about the historical Bluebeard.

"Woyzeck," the 1837 play by Georg Buchner, hardly brightens the picture, with its portrait of a common man frantically reflecting all the alleged ills of his society. Once you've accepted the idea of another plunge into the abyss, however, it soon becomes clear that the CSC production ranks with their best recent work. And the troupe at least triesm to lighten up, with the second half of their current double bill: the only Buchner comedy, "Leonce and Lena," which unfortunately attempts much more than it achieves. The plays are onstage at CSC through May 17.

For a writer who expired at age 23, leaving only three plays and a couple of short books, Buchner has been getting a lot of attention lately. I suspect his political fervor has something to do with this, and perhaps his sense of doom. As conceived by director Christopher Martin, The CSC "Woyzeck" is less pictorial and less berserk than Werner Herzog's recent film version, and takes far fewer liberties than the Bread and Puppet Theater's recent adaptation.It is, in fact, a fair representation of what the author might well have had in mind.

Robert Stattel (who played Oedipus earlier this season) humanizes and familiarizes Woyzeck without diminishing the madness that's a main ingredient of his personality. You don't have to brood about society to believe his decline and fall --though such brooding is certainly encouraged by the play, and provides a lot of missing links in the scenario. Perhaps because it's unfinished, or perhaps because Buchner wanted it that way, "Woyzeck" is fragmented and episodic (like his predecessor, "Danton's Death") and contains a lot more hints than resolutions. Stattel and his colleagues carry us effortlessly over the gaps, making its production an unexpectedly human experience -- a drama as well as a diatribe.

It's too bad the evening doesn't hold up. "Leonce and Lena" is Buchner's romantic comedy, in which he attacks the very notions of romance, comedy, and romantic art in general. The result is less provocative than ponderous -- it's no good undercutting a convention unless you have something to substitute for it , and Buchner never quite manages to pull this off. The production is sometimes handsome, with angular settings and sudden colors, and the perfo rmers work hard. To little avail, I'm afraid. "Leonce and Lena" is a letdown.

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