REVIEW by Willard Manus
FERDYDURKE (fer-dih-DORK-eh) is described in a program note as "n. fiddle-faddle, blatherskite, piffle, flapdoodle, flummadiddle, hooey, whangdoodle, jiggery-pokery, twaddle." That about sums up the play's content, which makes nonsense out of such sacred cows as education, childhood, sex and sport. First written as a novel by Witold Gombnrowicz (1904-1969), one of Poland's most important--and irreverent and anti-authoritarian--writers, FERDYDURKE was turned into a play by Teatr Provisorium, a Polish avant-garde theatre company which brought the production to City Garage five years ago (utilizing an English-language translation by Allen J. Kuharski).
Now, with the help of producer Joanna Klass of Arden2 and the Polish consulate, FERDYDURKE returns to L.A. for a brief run at the Odyssey Theatre. In the intervening years, Teatre Provisorium has teamed up with another company, Kompania Teatre of Lublin, resulting in a much slicker, snappier production of the play, which relies on exaggerated physical and verbal comedy for its effects.
Directed by Janusz Oprynski and Witold Mazurkiewicz, FERDYDURKE tells the story of Joseph, a tormented writer (the rubber-faced Mazurkiewicz), who is persuaded by a loony professor (Jacek Brzezinski) to cure his soul-sickness by becoming an adolescent again. Joseph goes back to school where he not only gets teased and bullied again but relives all his teenage anxieties and insecurities, especially those having to do with football and sex. His journey of self-discovery turns into a descent into hell.
Gombrowicz's mordant take on Faust is performed by a four-man ensemble which uses all the weapons of pantomime, burlesque and commedia del'arte it can muster up, plus copious wordplay and japery. It's the Three Stooges crossed with Grotowski.
The new production of FERDYDURKE, though, is marred by an excess of energy. The actors shout their lines in such a loud, aggressive way that all subtlety and complexity are drowned out. The one-note performances don't ruin the evening, but they certainly distract from the wonderful things Mazurkiewicz, Jacek, Jaroslaw Tomica and Michal Zgiet do with their inspired jiggery-pokery.
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda St. in W.L.A. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com