Fresh from the New York success of his play “Bug, ” Tracy Letts has taken on a formidable directorial challenge in Werner Schwab’s play “People Annihilation.” Schwab’s work is often described as untranslatable. It’s not just the bizarre abstraction, distortion, and violence that characterize his language, in which characters refer to themselves as “bodies” and paeans to fucking are juxtaposed with invocations of aesthetic truth. It’s not clear whether Schwab’s work makes clear sense outside of its Austrian context: how much of the power of his drive to explode convention survives the peculiar blend of artistic mastery and bourgeois self-loathing of the Viennese theatre scene in which Schwab first found an audience? Letts and the cast of this Trap Door Theatre production make a valiant effort to embody Schwab’s demented, savagely expressionist world. Particularly memorable is the long, awkward monologue by Mrs. Growlfire (Beata Pilch) as she surveys the poisoned corpses of her dinner-party guests—a monologue punctuated by an astonishing reversal. And Trap Door deserves kudos for making Schwab available to Chicago. In the end, though, the attraction of Schwab’s anti-theatre remains more theoretical than real. At the turn of the century, how much distance separates Schwab’s frantic bourgeois-epatering from the slicker anti-intellectualism of his fellow Graz native, the Governator? (John Beer)
This production is now closed.