Deliberately fractured production
New York — Big and Little/Scenes. Play by Botho Strauss. Directed by Christopher Martin for CSC Repertory. The CSC Repertory has opened its new season with a new name. The initials that used to stand for Classic Stage Company now mean City Stage Company - a tribute to the troupe's metropolitan home, and an acknowledgment that its interest sometimes wanders far from established classics.
Its latest production is a case in point. ''Big and Little/Scenes'' comes from the contemporary West German playwright Botho Strauss, whose reputation has been steadily rising. First produced in 1978, the work has been presented throughout Europe. It made its New York bow in an abridged version four years ago. CSC is offering the English-language premiere of the complete text.
The heroine of ''Big and Little'' is a woman named Lotte, whom the play traces through a grueling physical and psychological journey. The action has no linear plot. Rather, its 10 scenes are like pieces of a puzzle, as CSC suggests in a program note. Although characters accompany Lotte on her odyssey - relatives, friends, strangers - they come and go like the elusive story itself, emerging for moments of crystal clarity before fading back into shadows of memory and mystery.
The trouble is, the ''puzzle'' doesn't add up to much. Some scenes have their own fascination, as Lotte delivers a lonely monologue in one called ''Morocco''; grapples with a boss in ''Dictation''; and sinks to a sad mental condition in ''In Society,'' among others. But momentum fades as each section ends, rarely resuming in time to sustain the evening's energy. It's three hours of bits and pieces that never overcome their deliberately fractured condition.
One reason ''Big and Little'' has been mounted so often, I suspect, is the lure for actresses in the meaty Lotte role - a part already filled by such strong performers as Glenda Jackson in a London production, Bulle Ogier in Paris , and Barbara Barrie in New York. In the CSC edition, Karen Sunde (long a mainstay of the troupe) gives the most vigorous and versatile performance I've yet seen from her, reaching heights of feeling even on the night I attended, when a minor injury had temporarily necessitated restraint in some of the show's most physically taxing moments. The rest of the cast supported her solidly under the crisp direction of CSC honcho Christopher Martin, who also designed the production and translated the text.
Like the last Strauss play to reach New York, the tendentious ''Three Acts of Recognition'' directed by Richard Foreman at the Public Theater, moments of ''Big and Little'' (called ''Gross und Klein'' in German) will linger in memory. I especially liked the long third scene, ''Ten Rooms,'' with its frantic motion from one setting to another, peppered with bizarre and even surreal details. But the play's journey is too bumpy for comfort, and even when the whole ''puzzle'' has passed before us, its messages don't justify the effort of piecing them together.
''Big and Little'' is now in repertory with CSC's intelligent and elaborate production of Goethe's ''Faust.'' Coming soon is ''Hamlet,'' to be followed by ''Baal,'' the first CSC excursion into Bertolt Brecht. Another show, not yet chosen, will wrap up the season.