Like his contemporaries Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz, Stanislaw Witkiewicz, or Witkacy (1885-1939) is a writer too little appreciated in this country. The Polish painter and playwright developed a theater that relentlessly exposed its own construction, while at the same time avoiding the pure nonsense of Dada. The Experimental Theater Company deserves applause for making Witkiewicz’s theater available to Chicago with its new production of “The Madman and the Nun.” Unfortunately, this uneven production leaves the viewer with only a muddled sense of the radical power of Witkiewicz’s play. The initial impression is promising; audience members arriving at the Chopin Theatre are confronted with a space carved up by white sheets into a Cubist labyrinth, and by drooling, shrieking cast members creating an eerily convincing replica of a hideously inhumane asylum. The play begins as an orderly slams a massive sliding door behind us, trapping us in the performance space. But the intensity of this opening slowly dissipates as the performance veers uncertainly between realistic pathos and cartoonish slapstick. Witkiewicz relies upon the collision of dueling theatrical realities for his effects, but this production’s tentative performances and awkward blocking even out what should be stark juxtapositions. Overall, the play could use less nun and more madman. (John Beer)
This production is now closed.