NY Review: 'The House of Fitzcarraldo'

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Photo Source: Nick Kostner
Anyone planning to see Buran Theatre Company’s exceptional touring production of “The House of Fitzcarraldo” while it’s at the Brick should take note: The infamous German film auteur Werner Herzog may challenge you to a game of tug of war. It’s not likely you’ll be a match for Herzog—or the company’s bounding, solipsistic performance, for that matter—so brace yourself.

Compiled by Buran from several accounts of the making of Herzog’s 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo,” the show affects a broad reading of the equally affectionate and antagonistic relationships among Herzog, his tempestuous star Klaus Kinski, and the 300-ton steamboat that Kinski’s character, Fitzcarraldo, conspires to pull over a mountain in Peru. Director Nikolas Weir’s cheekily self-aware staged version hinges on the fact that Herzog demanded that this loony feat actually be accomplished in real life. More of a belligerent tone poem on the steamboat event than a proper play, the production is punctuated by brisk musical numbers (music by Christopher Luxem and Casey Mraz and lyrics by Henry Bial and Adam R. Burnett). Other weapons in the show’s scatterbrained theatrical arsenal include Geraldo Mercado’s live video recording and projections, lip-synching to prerecorded dialogue, and audience participation. In addition to helping Herzog pull the ropes, you may be asked to hold the camera.

A real-life rubber baron who had a crew disassemble a steamboat, carry the pieces over a mountain, and then reassemble it inspired the film, but, as the onstage Herzog tells us, this wasn’t a strong enough metaphor for him. Indeed, the piece raises—albeit in a harebrained fashion—many credible views about the connection that ambition and ego have to art. Says Burnett, who also plays Herzog but here is seemingly speaking as himself, “Talking about art is like thinking about killing a man.”

Burnett, who charmingly employs a somewhat exaggerated re-creation of Herzog’s German accent, and Jud Knudsen, who plays the ever-riled Kinski with searing magnetism, are the artistic directors of the company, which is made up of equally winning performers.

Presented by Buran Theatre Company and the Brick at the Brick, 575 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. March 7–17. Thu.–Sun., 8 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.bricktheater.com.