Wednesday, June 12, 2013

3 Kinds of Exile: John Guare’s Separation Anxiety

It is an insidious tool used to control dissent, yet sometimes it comes as a relief.  Whether voluntary or forced, separation from one’s homeland is a difficult proposition to face.  Playwright John Guare explores the phenomenon in his new theatrical hybrid triptych, 3 Kinds of Exile, which officially opened last night at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater.

Exile’s first segment, Karel, quickly establishes the minimalist tone through a brief but captivating monologue.  An unnamed actor relates the experiences of his friend, a former kindertransport refugee. Despite the success he found as an adult, the first exile’s guilt eventually manifests itself in a rather macabre fashion.  While the Kafka influence is inescapable, it is still an intriguing tale.  Martin Moran (who has appeared in several of his own one-man shows) tells it with confidence, nicely conveying the drama and angst of his friend’s situation as a second-hand reporter.

The middle piece of Exile will likely generate the most attention in the theater world, because it represents the first time the playwright has performed in his own play.  In fact, Elzbieta Erased is all about stage and screen history, telling the mostly sad history of Elzbieta Czyzewska.  Once one of Poland’s most acclaimed thespians, Czyzewska marriage to American journalist David Halberstam directly led to her exile and a sometimes brilliant but decidedly erratic career Off-Broadway, well before Off-Broadway was cool.

Essentially, Erased is a dramatic A-V presentation adapted from a previous Guare one-act, featuring the writer and Polish actor Omar Sangare detailing the trials and tribulations of Czyzewska’s life.  However, it takes on unexpectedly heavy significance when both men start to reveal their connections to Czyzewska.  In fact, it is hard to imagine a production of Exile without them.  Sangare is an electric stage presence and Guare is the veritable personification of erudite sophistication.  Hearing their tribute to Czyzewska is completely absorbing and genuinely moving, even with the pseudo-lecture hall staging.

Exile ends with a spot of musical theater, albeit of a somewhat absurdist variety.  Inspired by his work, Funiage turns the spotlight on the Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz.  Not particularly well regarded at home, Gombrowicz accepts an offer to lecture Argentina’s Polish expatriate community on the greatness of proper Polish literature, on the eve of World War II.  The expats did not think much of him either, but at least there were women to carouse with on the ship.

Ironically, Funiage is the most upbeat segment of Exile, even though it deliberately echoes Weil & Brecht’s productions.  Indeed, Gombrowicz is an attractive figure, who was evidently largely satisfied working as a Buenos Aires bank clerk by day and writing in relative obscurity at night.  David Pittu (who played Brecht in the Broadway musical LoveMusic) is wildly charismatic as Gombrowicz, while also expressing a sad, world weary earnestness.

Of course, Guare is best known as the writer of Six Degrees of Separation, which factors prominently in Elzbieta Erased3 Kinds of Exile is more avant-garde in form than his signature work, but the stories are still easily accessible and immediately engaging.  There are some deep truths in each piece, as well as several dynamic performances.  Recommended for slightly adventurous patrons, it runs through June 23rd at the Linda Gross Theater.

(Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)