"In the tank" takes on an election-free meaning in Icelandic director Gisli Orn Gardarsson's vision of Georg Buchner's unfinished masterpiece Woyzeck. Characters float in a water tank onstage at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. They are beautiful, damned and unforgettable. This Woyzeck,by turns sorrowful, mysterious, angry, turns into a literally spectacular rock concert with water and flying trapezes. It's a bit like Tarzan Goes Expressionistic.
The production earned enormous acclaim during its 2005 London run. You'll understand why if you see it, and you should, if you're need a fix of theatrical inspiration. The music by rocker Nick Cave, of the Bad Seeds, and Warren Ellis, who tours with Cave, adds powerful atmosphere and presence. Their rock score is the real thing; evocative, poetic, searing. Borkur Jonsson's remarkable set consists of a grass covered series of platforms and a maze-like structure of pipes. Larus Bjornsson's lights are by turns stark and startling.
The production is also fun, a word not generally associated with Buchner's bleak story of a soldier driven to madness and murder by a medical experiment. Written in 1837, Buchner's masterpiece eerily foreshadows the inhumanity of Dr. Mengele. Instead of a diet of peas, this Woyzeck is tortured by water, and water, water really is everywhere here.
A glamorous drum major in a purple satin suit shouts a rock anthem high above the stage on a trapeze and rips the grass covering the front edge of the platform to reveal the water tank. Gardarsson trained as a gymnast before becoming a director, and his company shows their athletic chops.
Ingvar E. Sigurdsson's Woyzeck perfectly projects a haunted man who thinks too much. Beautiful Nina Dogg Fillippusdottir as Marie embodies a trapped but loving woman's frustration and remorse, particularly in a monologue near the play's end. She also dances a mean twist with the sexy drum major during a weird party scene in which the doctor, played with hauteur by Harpa Arnarsdottir, and the captain, an unhinged bully as played by Vikingur Kristjansson, put a globe full of water on Woyzeck's head. Waterboarding, anyone?
Drum major Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson has the danger, voice and looks of a rock god. He even says "New York, good evening!" The increasingly surreal and colorful imagery match Woyzeck's troubled visions. We don't pity Woyzeck's nightmare, we experience it.
We're in the tank, too.
Vesturport and the Reykjavik City Theatre, produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the 2008 Next Wave Festival at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NYC. Remaining performances: Fri. Oct. 17 and Sat. Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m. (718) 636-4100 or www.bam.org.