I Never Betrayed the Revolution
West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., 352-1777, westoflenin.com. $15–$20. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Nov. 23.
According to program notes, Christopher Danowski first showed his communism-satirizing script to A.J. Epstein 25 years ago, long before Epstein came to own the West of Lenin theater. Perhaps Russia’s recent totalitarian revival inspired Epstein to excavate it from the proverbial drawer for this belated debut. Excellent performers do their darnedest to bring the hazy parable to life, but the underlying material is thinner than the peasants’ taped-together scraps of shoe leather.
The “pan-Slavic” story revolves around two women, Daleka (Laurie Jerger) and Henryka (Susanna Burney), who, hungry and angry, journey to their unnamed nation’s capital to wrangle promised funds from a craven functionary named General Chuchelow (side-splitting physical comedian K. Brian Neel, in full glory). Their many nano-scene misadventures are introduced by unhelpful placards wielded by mirthless assistant Polina (Kate Kraay)—e.g., “A Room. Later.” All this wasted furniture rearrangement/setup time merely yields scenes that fizzle out arbitrarily (like so many headlines), instead of following any purposeful progression. Point conveyed, irritating elements persist.
Daleka gets embroiled in the movement against the corrupt Chuchelow and winds up trussed in a general’s uniform (adorned with butterfly wings) as the next leader. Other well-portrayed characters include an insane couple who fetishize a cow doll (Ty Bonneville and Andy Buffelen); a deposed former leader (Chris Dietz) who now dresses in a pink tutu; and a young military bugler (Matt Aguayo) so hungry or drunk or consumptive that he staggers vertiginously, like gravity’s love slave.
Richard Lorig’s set is simple and effective; though again, too much time is spent rearranging it in the dark before each brief episode. If you really love absurdist theater, given the cast-crafted humor and even pathos here, it’s possible to forgive the choppiness, the repetitions, the meandering and predictability. Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall came down, Danowski’s script (directed by Epstein) offers sophomoric truths that are no less true for being tedious, even today.