Printer's Devil is a schizophrenic beast. On the one hand, it's a group of young artists with sharp minds and wicked senses of humor, the folks who staged this year's impeccably irreverent Horrible Child and the incomparably charming Backwards Into China. And on the other, these are the people responsible for Naomi Iizuka's Skin, adapted from Georg Büchner's classic 1832 play Woyzeck.
Printer's Devil Theater, September 19
Büchner's original is a domestic tragedy that follows a lower-class soldier as he is tormented by his superiors and betrayed by his wife. The story is easily a hundred years before its time with its frank dissection of sex and violence and its clipped, almost cinematic scenes. Iizuka's version, we are told, has been transplanted to a California barrio—though since the production is staged in an unused Sand Point hangar (cheap rent! big spectacle!), it doesn't give much of a sense of being anywhere.
Iizuka is a promising playwright who manages some fine realistic dialogue and well-observed scenes when she's not striving mightily to be evocative and important. Her play is an underachiever and seemingly proud of it: The work is scrappy, repetitious, and full of self-importance. What it needs is an editor. What it receives is a whole truckload of slightly shopworn theatrical tricks like mounted video screens, film projections, miked narrative, and even that big dramatic moment so beloved of Big Theater when the back facade is swept away to reveal all the additional space the company paid rent on.
Christopher Goodson as the murderous Jones is so overwrought from his first appearance that he is reminiscent of Bobcat Goldthwaite on a difficult day. It's no wonder he ends up knifing his slow and sultry girlfriend (Sarah Gunnell); it's just a surprise that it doesn't happen in the show's first five minutes. The size of the hangar pushes the other cast members into some fairly tortured territory as well. The only person who manages a consistently believable performance, Emily Zisette as Mary's daughter, is (for reasons never made clear) only visible on video. The problem may be that this company is committed to showing us it can do Big Important Theater with Big Impressive Effects. But with Skin, it just demonstrates what we already knew: It knows how to hype a show.