When an informant, Marc Dutroux (Albert Bendix), finds a Pinocchio doll in the workshop of a local cabinetmaker, Werner Brown (Mike James), he reports the crime to Judge Wolff (Alfred Gingold). Werner did not make the doll, but he is so thrilled to be regarded as an artist that he confesses. With his mother, Miranda (Sue-Ellen Mandell), Werner is brought in front of Wolff, ambitious prosecutor Alexander Trocchi (Neal Moeller), and court reporter Carola Lang (Lisa Pettersson). The judge sentences Werner to have his right hand cut off, which is done in the courtroom. As a result, chaos begins in Kongstad. With just these six characters—plus Carola's young daughter Mary (Izzy Hanson-Johnston)—Rohde creates a dizzying series of topsy-turvy relationships that become the journey of the play.
In this dark "Alice in Wonderland" world reversal is the norm: The innocent become guilty, the guilty seek redemption, and we witness crimes that include child murder and public suicide. Along the way Rohde juggles many themes, decking them out with symbols, riddles, and oracles. It gets so excessive that you being to suspect that he may be satirizing himself. Then you hear a line like "What do you worship, the beast in man or the God in man?" and you fear that the author is in deadly earnest.
Under the firm direction of Henning Hegland, the cast does battle with the material with remarkable success. There's not a weak link in the chain, from Pettersson's almost-normal mother to Moeller's oily attorney and Mandell's mysterious sideshow oracle. The two leading roles, Gingold's agonized judge and James' guileless artist, are very well done. Both men are strong performers we'd like to see more of.
Presented by Scandinavian American Theater Company at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC. April 16–29. Mon., Wed.–Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com