Chock full of Lovers and Madmen — literally

Becky Bowman

Military garb, jeans, T-shirts and Bob Dylan songs are not exactly traditional components of a Lovers and Madmen show. Yet, they are featured in this weekend’s production of “Woyzeck,” the troupe’s first non-Shakespearean play.

“Woyzeck,” left unfinished by Georg Buchner when he died of typhoid in 1837, is a departure from the norm in many ways for the troupe.

“It’s a great opportunity to broaden ourselves a bit,” says producer Nick Ward. “Many Shakespearean troupes around the world often spice things up with (works) from other writers.”

“Woyzeck,” for example, shook up the world of drama, by introducing unrealistic theater and influencing the works of greats such as Hermann Hesse and Tony Kushner, director Anthony Nelson says. But the dark tragicomedy comes lacking transitions, possibly pivotal scenes and even proper names in its original draft — nearly opposite the polish of a Shakespearean play.

In order to put up the play Nelson, a Communication senior, had to pen three or four original scenes. The group also worked together to forge transitions throughout the play.

“There is no order to the scenes,” Nelson says of Buchner’s unfinished German draft, of which Nelson used seven different translations to compile the Lovers and Madmen script. “You feel like there was another scene he didn’t have the chance to write.”

Such gaps could wreak havoc on the plotline of a poverty-stricken soldier held captive and driven crazy by a doctor’s science experiments. But despite the difficulties of the coarse script, the cast of “Woyzeck” pulls the show together.

Communication junior Kyle O. Jones, who plays male lead Franz Woyzeck, says he worked hard to portray his ever-crazier character as more than a stereotype.

“You have to find the humanity in it and build from there,” says Jones, who recently portrayed Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet” and directed “Twelfth Night.”

Jennifer Snowden sizzles in “Woyzeck” as Woyzeck’s wife, Marie. The Communication junior, who worked most recently on “King Lear” and “The Vagina Monologues,” says she enjoys her character’s depth in a play that spends a lot of time analyzing the meaning of life.

“It was written by a guy who was dying,” she says, “and that comes through a lot in the text, because it’s just a pessimistic view of life.”

In addition to the leads, “Woyzeck” enjoys a strong boost from the supporting cast, including Arjun Jaikumar, who plays the Doctor and forces Woyzeck to subsist on a diet of peas, and Garrick Aplin, who plays Marie’s lover — given only the name of “Drum Major” in the original script.

The show also gets unanticipated pizazz from singers in the crowd scenes, including Lauren Balefsky, Matthew Naclerio and Dawen Wang. All three sing during bar scenes where Wang plays guitar, and Naclerio leads a strong circus-like scene that features an educated horse, portrayed by an elaborately costumed Jennifer Kretchmer.

According to Ward and Nelson, mounting the works of other writers will give the troupe more freedom in designing sets and costumes while lessening the burden of production costs and constraints. This addition of non-Shakespeare works will enable the troupe to perform five or six shows a year instead of three, and allow them more freedom in the scripts to modernize some abstract storylines.

In “Woyzeck,” for instance, Lovers and Madmen replaced old German folk songs in the original draft — which made little sense when translated — with more modern folk songs, including the perfectly placed Tom Waits song, “God’s Away on Business.” In this play of insanity, poverty and debauchery, no song seems to say it better.