By: David Sheward
The concept of 3 Kinds of Exile sounds intriguing, on paper anyway. Quirky and insightful playwright John Guare (The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation) employs three different examples-two based on reality and one totally fictional-to examine the effects of being forced to leave your homeland and reside permanently abroad. Each of these short vignettes contains fascinating ideas, but, onstage in this Atlantic Theatre Company production, they come across as untheatrical.
The relatively brief evening begins with a monologue titled "Karel" in which Martin Moran relates the story of a man covered with a seemingly incurable Kafka-esque rash. After visiting a psychiatrist, he realizes the skin condition is a manifestation of his childhood fear when he left an unnamed Eastern European country for England during World War II. This curtain-raiser is short, direct, and simply delivered by an understated Moran.
In "Elzbieta Erased," the centerpiece of the program, the playwright Guare and Polish actor Omar Sangare narrate the volatile expatriate experience of real-life Polish actor Elzbieta Czyzewska, who came to New York after marrying American journalist David Halberstam, the Warsaw bureau chief for the New York Times during the 1960s. A star in her own land, Czyzewska ("My name is like a bad hand in Scrabble," she once joked) struggled to find roles in American theater and films. She found work and acclaim at Yale Repertory Theater and even won an Obie for Mac Wellman’s Crowbar in an Off-Broadway production. But, ultimately, her attempts to achieve the kind of recognition she had in Poland were frustrated. Guare and Sangare knew and worked with the subject, yet the events are still told in the third person. The saga is full of conflict-political, personal, and artistic-but Neil Pepe’s flat direction and the second-hand nature of the piece render it static. Sangare’s thick accent and Guare’s unpolished performance add to the distancing.
The program concludes with "Funiage," inspired by the satiric autobiographical works of Witold Gombrowicz, who traveled from Poland to Argentina for a cultural exchange program in 1939 and decided to stay when Hitler invaded his homeland. This dark fantasy employs Brecht-Weill-like musical numbers and fantasy elements to convey Gombrowicz’s broiling dissatisfaction with his oppressive native country and the seductive allure of South America. The title refers to a combination funeral and marriage ceremony threatening to encase the protagonist in a symbolic union with Poland. He breaks free and joins in a joyous dance with the free-spirited Argentineans led by a Mephistopheles figure played by Sangare. There is vitality and wit here, especially in David Pittu’s snappy rendering of Witold, but the point of the piece is made early on-Poland is stuffy and mired in the past, Witold wants to get out-and much of the action is repetitive.
The basic material and themes of these three pieces have potential, but they are not sufficiently developed to be compelling stage works. Perhaps a series of essays would have been more effective.
June 11-23. Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 330 W. 20th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm & 7pm. Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission. $70. (866) 811-4111. www.ovationtix.com