Chopin Productions

Brandon Bruce, Director of the Year - Orgie 2006 Theater Awards

"..An epic battle between the libertines and the stuffed-shirts of the world". - Chicago Tribune "The Tyrant Always Means Well, Our Culture Wars in a Nutshell" - Chicago Reader

1/6/06 - 1/29/06

Thurs-Sat 8p, Sun 4p

"In 1962 critic Martin Esslin labeled Slawomir Mrozek an absurdist,likening the Polish avant-garde playwright to Beckett and Ionesco.But despite Mrozek's surreal illogic, he is primarily a social satirist, scoffing at pretensions, railing against tyranny, and generally probing social and political dynamics. In Mrozek's world humans may be corrupt, deluded, and foolhardy,but they still hold fate in their own hands,which makes him a lousy absurdist but a genuine, even timeless satirist. Coming of age in communist Poland, Mrozek took two directions in his early work. Sometimes he addressed abuses of centralized power and the curtailment of human freedom. In his first script, The Police (1958),an extraordinarily effective police force eliminates all disloyalty and must therefore create faux dissenters to justify its existence. Other times Mrozek concentrated on more pitiable human foibles. In an early short story a frugal zookeeper orders an inflatable elephant, and when a stiff wind carries the fake beast away, schoolchildren who've been told that elephants weigh 13,000 pounds grow disillusioned, abandon their studies, and ultimately refuse to believe in elephants. Mrozek fled Poland in 1963 and the following year wrote Tango , the play that gave him international stature. Combining the dual strains of his early satire, Tango is on its surface a send-up of the well-made bourgeois comedy, with a younger generation struggling against the world imposed on them by their elders. But paradoxically the adult world here is one of perpetual adolescence, championed by middle-aged experimental artist Stomil and his free-loving wife, Eleanor. Decades earlier Stomil and Eleanor's generation had opposed everything in a bloodless cultural revolution so thorough it eliminated all social rules and conventions. Now the two of them while away their days, indulging every passing whim, while Eleanor's mother, Eugenia, descends into cheerful senility and her stodgy brother, Eugene, strains to remain au courant. But when Stomil and Eleanor's son, Arthur, returns from college with a newfound desire for structure, justified by an endless stream of inflexible intellectual babble, a counterrevolution occurs. Stuffing his parents into respectable middle-class attire, Arthur transforms simple- minded freeloader Eddie into a proper servant and announces, to everyone's horror, that he's going to get married and become a doctor. Without Mrozek's philosophical rigor and political savvy, Tango might seem like an overgrown episode of Growing Pains. But Mrozek casts the battle between Stomil and Arthur as a clash of powerful political archetypes: the instinctive liberal and the unyielding reactionary. And given the play's iconic characters, Arthur's increasingly zealous efforts to shape up his family suggest the exuberant self-righteousness of despotism as it squashes individuality. Dialogue reflecting family mayhem is generously peppered with philosophical debates about the possibility of human freedom in a society of collective norms. Esslin suggests Mrozek was taking aim at Stalinism, but it is no stretch to see the current American culture wars in Tango. Director Brandon Bruce struggles to achieve the right tone for Mrozek's allegorical world. He ends up giving the nearly two-and-a-half-hour show the pace and style of a very good sitcom, producing thoughtful comedy rather than hard-hitting satire. The three actors who have the best handle on the scale of Mrozek's exaggerations play subsidiary characters: Lynnette Gaza as a childishly wise Eugenia, Ron Kuzava as a fussy and effete Eugene, and Christopher Kaye as a creepily vacant Eddie. Because the main characters are played relatively realistically, these three seem mere wacky sidekicks. In a staging that doesn't consistently heighten the script's illogic, the long philosophical debates come across as dead space rather than twisted, disturbing efforts to reshape the world through cold intellectualism. Still, a thoughtful comedy isn't a terrible thing. And though this one is uneven, it provides ample food for thought. Ultimately Tango is a cautionary tale about the corruption of a naive idealist as he brutally recasts the world to his own liking. Bruce makes that journey entertaining at times, but it's only in the last half of the second act that the play's real stakes emerge. In a searing coup de grace, Marcus Kamie as Arthur plants himself atop the dining room table, intoxicated by the decision to rule by simple brute force, and launches into a steely, celebratory, self-aggrandizing tirade. Finally the chilling horror of Mrozek s grotesque vision is palpable. Then, in a stunning conclusion, Arthur is overthrown by the most unlikely of characters, who also forces the others to capitulate. Here Mrozek makes it unsettlingly clear how easily well-ordered lives can collapse into craven servility" - Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader 1/12/06

"It's always a little uncomfortable when the best analogy you have for a foreign play from another era is an American sitcom. But there's Mrozek's absurdist 1965 Tango, in which the uptight, toe-the-line son (played here by the prime Kamie with equal parts hair wax and hair trigger) from a family of law-breaking artists reaches his breaking point and insists that the whole clan clean up its act or else. As esoteric mother and father gaze at their son Arthur with distant confusion (How could they have raised such a conservative? Where did they go wrong?), it's impossible not to recall Alex P. Keaton's faded hippie parents, flummoxed as to how their baby boy ended up with a Reagan fetish. Director Bruce knows how to illuminate the contrast brightly, and manages to create some fine stage pictures as well. Yet for much of the two-and-a-half-hour running time, the absurdity in Mrozek's text is played for psychological naturalism. Bruce's Wonka-tart cast doesn't fare nearly as well when playing for earnest, and the proceedings mean a little less in these moments. But as the chaos climaxes in Act II with the muscular rise of the play's ostensibly dimmest character (Christopher Kaye, who's ideally numbskulled as the family's live-in gigolo), we see what happens when clear-headed, linear thinkers like Arthur and abstract thinkers like his folks are busy butting heads: Brute simpletons violently take over. Tango sneaks up on you with this idea, and the surprise rush overrides the moments of boredom" - Chris Piatt, TimeOut Chicago 1/19/06

"Wicker Park's Chopin Theatre is generally a venue for renting companies, but occasionally owner Zygmunt Dyrkacz imports short-run, avant-gardish productions by Polish troupes. Unfortunately, the Chopin isn't hosting any international performers for its current production of "Tango," by the Polish-born playwright Slawomir Mrozek. Too cost-prohibitive, says Dyrkacz. Instead, a Chicago director and Chicago cast are making a muddled go of it. With its theater-of-the-absurd antics and affectations, the play first performed in the mid-1960s is conceived as an epic battle between the libertines and the stuffed-shirts of the world. In a setup that has fueled many a sitcom good and bad, Arthur is a strait-laced young man surrounded by a bevy of kooks. "I want to be a doctor!" he announces, to which his artsy parents horrified by the respectability of such a statement can only respond, "You are a disgrace to this whole family!" And herein lies the problem. Whereas the play's farcical elements should skip along like pebbles across the surface of a lake, they feel forced. Every last bit of dialogue is weighted down by exclamation points. Disgusted by the hedonistic depravity of his family, Arthur resolves to "establish new rules, or bring back the old ones!" This proposed end to laxity is, not surprisingly, met with resistance. "Non-conformism is just another form of conformism," he insists, sounding much like a teenager analyzing the social nuances of high school. For all its cliches, "Tango," is something of a classic in Europe on the scale of "Death of a Salesman" here in the U.S. and when it debuted, its themes were likely seen as a commentary on the hypocritical platitudes imposed by Stalinism. The ideas certainly resonate today. The pendulum, as they say, is swinging and it's swinging away from just the sort of thinking that uses the word "swinging" to connote something entirely different. This production, however, seems to have mistaken both a lack of clarity and uneven performances for absurdism" - Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune 1/12/06

Slawomir Mrozek

Brandon Bruce

Brenda Barrie, Lynette Gaza, Marcus Kamie, Christopher Kaye, Ron Kusava, Franette Leibow, Steve Ratcliff

Andrezj Dylewski, Artur Grabowski, Joanna Iwanicka, Rachel Jamieson, Jared Moore, Samantha Weldon, Nicole Winning

Tags: Theater, New Europe, 2006