08 October 2012

Woyczek on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company and artist William Kentridge

While I'm not a fan of Georg Buchner's unfinished Woyczek, I was anxious to see this production a couple of Sundays ago at MCA Chicago when I learned that the South African artist William Kentridge was associated with it. I first encountered Kentridge's work at an MCA Chicago exhibit in 2008-2009, and was enthralled by it.

This production was a remounting of a show that Kentridge first directed in 1992. The artist's dreamlike animations are the backdrop for the Handspring Puppet Company's remarkable constructions. The story, about a poor German soldier oppressed by the military and medical establishments to the extent that he loses his sanity and murders his common-law wife, is transformed in this South African retelling. Woyczek is now a black migrant worker.

Buchner's play doesn't need to be changed much to make Woyczek at home in South Africa.  Handspring's puppets and Kentridge's drawing make the story's new location seem so fitting that it's hard to imagine the play taking place anywhere else.  The performers carrying and speaking for the puppets are astonishingly good--their movements complement the puppets beautifully.  And Kentridge's animations are utterly haunting.

While I'm still not a big fan of Woyczek, Woyczek on the Highveld convinced me that Buchner set his play in the wrong country. And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to see this production.

Note: While this show has come and gone at the MCA, you can find snippets of Woyczek on the Highveld on Youtube.

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