Something is amiss in a converted church on 20th Street, which the trenchcoated guards by the door – members of the cast – make plain. This is the world of The Trap, Ambassador Theater’s latest production, by Tadeusz Rózewicz, drawing inspiration from the biography of Czech surrealist writer Franz Kafka.
The play, translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski, follows Franz – a young writer – and traces his anxieties as they manifest in familial and romantic relationships. Haunted by threats of existential and societal isolation, Franz (Matthew Lindsay Payne) descends further and further into nightmare and dysfunction as he drifts from one turbulent situation to the next.
The fragmented structure and representational, near-absurd dialogue suggests a hellish otherworldliness in Franz’s experiences. Where The Trap goes awry is in its commitment to fulfilling that vision. Rather than diving completely into the staccato, difficult, dark world the play seems to offer, Bondarewska’s production hedges its bets, diluting the play’s strangeness with elements that try to make it more known, more familiar.
For a play that roots itself in whimsy and dreamscapes, realism seems out of place. Neither the script nor the performances offer the depth of character that’s needed to ground the emotional leaps and conversational non-sequiturs in anything like compelling psychology, and yet the characters are all played as though in a straightforward contemporary work. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to hate the protagonist, and while the literary Franz Kafka penned many an important work of literature, the Franz character’s value as an artist and a person is basically omitted here. Indeed, none of the characters are likeable – but if that’s the point, they don’t go quite far enough to totally alienate, either.
Also at odds with the seeming expressionistic style are the elaborate transitions between scenes. Nearly every scene requires a setup process that takes just as long as the scene itself, often with real food props, table settings, or a choreography of cabinets and cloths. These transitions are well-executed, for what they are, but they also seem to beg the question – in a highly stylized production like this, what is lost or gained by the presence of real chicken on the dinner table?
April 28 – June 21
Ambassador Theatre at
XX Bldg, George Washington University
814 20th Street, NW
2 hours, 55 minutes
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $20 – $35
Details and Tickets
The actor playing Animula/Young Franz (Alexander Rolinski), who shadows the protagonist through many scenes, gave one of the evening’s more resonant performances, despite a nearly silent role. Just as the act of observation changes that which is observed, the presence of this young person in certain pivotal scenes added another layer of meaning, as did the inquisitive yet passive way the boy looked on.
The two notable successes of this production are provided by the designers. Carl Gudenius’s set, a movable assemblage of odd-angled flats and furniture, offers spaces that are visually interesting and jarring at the same time, their unexpected lines supporting the askew reality of the play. Music scored specifically for this work by Jerzy Satanowski underlies the scenes and transitions with an auditory circus mirror of piano, cello, percussion, and elements that seem to range from water sounds to carousel themes.
I applaud Ambassador Theatre’s willingness to provoke, to startle, and to disturb with this work. But it would have been ultimately more successful if it focused its efforts. Here, the effect of the play is diminished by too many choices operating under one production, leaving audiences more frustrated by the scattered focus of this work than moved by its meaning. After all, it should be the play that disturbs… not the production.
The Trap by Tadeusz Rózewicz, Translated by Adam Czerniawski . Directed by Hanna Bondarewska . Featuring Matthew Payne, Colin Davies, Benjamin Koonz, Morganne Davies *, Alexander Rolinski, Ariana Almajan, Melissa Robinson, Madeline Burrows, Emily Gilson, Abigail Ropp, John Brennan, Peter Orvetti, Marlove Vilchez, Ed Klein, and Tiffany Pindell . Music: Jerzy Satanowski . Assistant Director: Shawn W. Lyles . Set Design: Carl Gudenius . Multimedia Design: Riki Kim . Lighting Design: Michael Stepowany . Sound Design: Paul Oehlers . Costumes: Sigridur Johannesdottir . Stage Manager: Yijin (Vanessa) Liu . Produced by Ambassador Theater . Reviewed by Jen Clements.