Theater Review: For Better and Worse, Hunchback Flees the Realm of the Well Made Play for Wilder Pastures | Arts
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Friday, May 19, 2017

Theater Review: For Better and Worse, Hunchback Flees the Realm of the Well Made Play for Wilder Pastures

Posted by on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 4:11 PM

click to enlarge Hunchback - PHOTO BY ALEX MANESS
  • photo by Alex Maness
  • Hunchback
Hunchback
★★★
Through May 20
Walltown Children’s Theatre, Durham


Kenneth Burke once compared Dadaism to a child mimicking a disabled man hobbling down a street—not out of sympathy or mockery, but sheer curiosity. There’s more than a whisper of Dada in Hunchback, the devised work replacing the adaptation of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch originally slated as Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s season closer.

Among disjunctive sequences, Dana Marks’s character entertainingly deconstructs a TED Talk when she removes everything except the nouns from John Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?” Before that, Germain Choffart’s suave opening tribute to Julio Iglesias is interrupted when grand mal seizures simultaneously grip everyone else onstage.

Elsewhere in this hour-long work, the septet of performers mimics sexual self-stimulation before dutifully flogging the nonsense verse of music director William Dawson and director Jaybird O’Berski’s “Ezra Pound Lullaby.”

In short, we’re no longer in the realm of the well-made play—or, possibly, one of any other stripe. That’s not a hanging offense for such showcases or cabarets, particularly when the historic home of Dadaism was the Cabaret Voltaire. Still, we’re hard-pressed to find the relevance of several sequences to the evening’s putative theme: how our culture reckons with disfigurement and desire, and how we behave once we’ve done so.

Designer Wil Deedler’s imaginative pantyhose-and-Styrofoam prosthetics outfit the heads of European nobility with uneven lumps and fissures in the evening’s first half. But from their boorish behavior we soon we realize that, if beauty (or its social construction) is skin-deep, ugly goes down to the bone.

After characters in immaculate evening wear recite the jaded epigrams of Lord Henry from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Shelby Hahn’s stuffy Baron Herbert bloviates on disciplining children—and on disciplining oysters—in a delightful mash-up text that makes strange bedfellows of English comic/writer Stephen Fry and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson.

During a pear-shaped tribute to TV dance numbers from the sixties, ensemble members grow silent and still as they react to the audience with their facial expressions, as if we were the lover mentioned in soul singer Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter (Comes Tears).”

A mid-show costume change transforms the crew onstage into a modern-day Swedish rock band in mid-mutiny against Choffart’s disaffected, distracted lead vocalist. As the show sputters out amid cryptic covers of Angel Olsen and Leonard Cohen’s surprisingly lackluster “Memories,” we’re left wondering what sense, if any, has been made—and if that is actually the main point.

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