‘Woyzeck’ descends into madness

By The Beacon | February 27, 2014 1:10am

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Photos by David DiLoreto

Rebekah Markillie |

It’s like an episode of “American Horror Story” with sadistic doctors and patients stuck in their minds while haunted by their past.

University of Portland’s stage production of “Woyzeck” is the story of asylum patient Franz Woyzeck’s descent into madness. Before the show starts, an improvised pre-show allows a glimpse into the lives of the patients at an insane asylum. Patients are unwashed with frazzled hair and stained beige uniforms. Plastic blue curtains and bare mattresses give the set an institutional vibe. The asylum personnel are violent towards the patients and mock them. Strange hallucinations plague one patient while another patient, Marie, believes that a doll is actually her child, born out of sin.

As Woyzeck’s mind deteriorates from institutional manipulation and abuse, his intimate relationship with Marie begins to unravel. While this relationship unwinds there are cyclical changes seen among the other patients and personnel and the play ends in a spectacle of extreme violence and a mental break down.

“The doctor and the personnel inject a certain poison in Franz, the poison is a metaphor - not physical poison, but it’s a deterioration of Franz’s well-being,” said senior Danielle Renella who plays Marie.

“Woyzeck,” written by Georg Büchner in 1836, was left unfinished after his death, allowing the director a large amount of freedom with the structure of scenes, adaptation and vision for the production. To help with his adaptation and scene structure, director Jared Lee, a graduate student, traveled to Ireland to hone his vision and speak with other playwrights about it.

“The version that we’re doing is a world premier,” Lee said. “It’s an adaptation I actually wrote and I’ve been working on for a while now. This version has never been seen before, this is the first time any eyes have seen it.”

Lee’s idea for the insane asylum came from a study of the play’s history. The play is based on the true story of a man named Woyzeck who committed a crime, was found to be insane but was publically decapitated.

“I just thought it to be so interesting,”  Lee said. “That particular case became a big turning point for how we treat the criminally insane thereafter. And I just thought that was an interesting thing. What if he wasn’t executed? What would happen if we saw him institutionalized and that story happen within the walls of an asylum?”

The mentally ill characters also give the actors freedom to experiment.

“It’s very fun for actors because there’s a little taste of, this character is maybe schizophrenic for example but you can take it however you want to take it,”  Renella said.

She describes Marie as a darker character.

“She’s more secluded from the other patients, doesn’t really get along with others except for Franz,” Renella said.

Karl the Idiot, played by sophomore Tyler Hunt, is a character who has clearly been tampered with by the doctor.

“There’s kind of this sense that he’s already been messed with and that’s why he is the way he is,” Hunt said. “Basically Karl also has the mental and emotional capacity of a child, like a six or seven-year-old.”

Karl also has physical deformities and is portrayed as having a microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder.

“The actual neurological definition of (microcephaly) didn’t really work for the character so I’m going for more like an autistic child,” said Hunt. “I really enjoy playing Karl. It’s extremely difficult to get into Karl’s mind or (to allow) myself to think like him. But at the same time he’s a very physical character and because of his simple nature, not a lot makes Karl worried.”

See Woyzeck:

When: Feb. 26-28 and March 1,  7:30 p.m. with a matinee March 1 at 2 p.m.

Where: Mago Hunt

Admission: $10 for adults and $5 for students