Backstage West | String Theory Press

Backstage West

Backstage West

The Dadaists

writer: T.H. McCulloh

DadaistsIt's a fun idea playwright Christian Jon Meoli had for an entertaining theatre evening shaped by a historical bent. The Dadaists didn't last long, but their ideas and style remain amusing if a bit silly and have led to other equally goofy periods, aesthetic "schools" characterized by a deconstruction of reality, a grinding of tradition under a supposedly avant-garde boot heel, and a thumbed nose at substance.

This fun-filled evening is pretty Dadaesque itself. Some of the entertainment at the play's historical locale--the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916--is charming and often very funny, but there is too much of it in this almost three-hour staging. The other problem is in Meoli's script, which basically is sound, but has too much dialogue concerned with the characters, all based on real people, endlessly explaining what Dada is and why they're starting the movement. It dulls a theatre piece; enough would be clear by just doing it. Dada can, or ought to, explain itself.

DadaistsWhen the script works, Harris Mann's direction is impeccable. When the script doesn't work, Mann allows the show to flop all over the stage in self-indulgent meaninglessness. Mann hits the drama and shape of Dada right but sometimes gets bogged down in its obscurity. The sound design, by String Theory, is exceptional, as is Shane Guffogg's scenic design, with slender curtains raised and lowered as scenes transition and rows of toilet seats on each side for cast members to sit on when not in action.

The large cast catches the flavor and color of Dadaism nicely, along with a good sense of the authentic characters they play. Joe Fria's Hugo Ball, one of Dada's founders, is sometimes a bit overbroad but paints a valid picture of one of the movement's leaders. Jason Waters is closer to the mark, his every moment real and honest, as Richard Huelsenbeck, Ball's friend and co-Dadaist, who takes the movement more seriously and eventually intends to start a Dada political party in Berlin. Allison Gammon is fine as Ball's volatile and confused lover, who's into drugs and the violent lust of Frederick Hardekopf (Linus David Cate), but Kara Keeley makes a stronger impression as Mary Wigman, funny and true to the Dada ideal.

DadaistsThe performance of the evening, though, is Kai Lennox's marvelously vivid portrait of that most famous of the Dadaists, Tristan Tzara, from Tzara's insecurity at the movement's beginning through his growing strength, humor, and dedication to the foolishness that was at the base of Dada.