Fringe Review: Katatonika (GCR)

Akanda presents Rada’s latest creation (story by Rada and Fritz) Katatonika “a rock n roll film noir theatre experience.”

Katatonika – Divadlo Na Pradle

Anyone clued into the Prague expat theatre scene (or who attended’s Monster Ball last Halloween) will know that new company Theater Akanda is well on its way to establishing a unique and distinctive performance style. Playing often to Jeff Fritz’s original rock-n-roll soundtracks, Akanda’s performers employ largely movement based, nonverbal basic techniques of dance, mime, and clown along with elements of kitchen-sink realism to explore a coterie of stock characters and situations that is in director Melanie Rada’s words, “a comment on all of us normal people”. For the 2009 Prague Fringe Festival, Akanda presents Rada’s latest creation (story by Rada and Fritz) Katatonika “a rock n roll film noir theatre experience.”

The “rock” is provided by Jeff Fritz who’s alternatively soaring and trance-like original composition is the highlight of the production and plays almost continuously over the sound system, a consistently unifying force both propelling and framing the action. Supported by onstage live guitar slinger Christopher Parsons, the evening’s less successful moments are those played in silence--or by live piano--without the aid of Fritz’s synthesized music.

The “roll” is straight out of any Guy Ritchie film complete with Akanda’s trademark favorite characters: sexy nurses with hearts of gold, freaky girls with fetishes for stuffed animals, gangsters, con artists, drug addicts, bodyguards and bleeding men all struggling to break free of the confines of their own created hell.

Anna Lit, attempting to channel Naomi Watts’ wide-eyed innocence in Eastern Promises, feels a bit too young and green even for the role of the young and green Nurse flirting with descent into the under-belly of society. However, Lit consistently embodies the requisite earnestness and plays at times with a subtlety that is nice in such a broad piece. With her vacant stare and dead eyes, Anička Šimonová, clutching Bobek Bob (a white stuffed bunny rabbit), provides Christina Ricci impression as the literally fatal femme negotiating with marks and her nemesis, Jeff Fritz (appearing as the Racketeer). Fritz is physically the most imposing performer on stage and certainly the most evil in manner and deeds. The pivotal moment when James High’s smiling and oddly sympathetic Bodyguard kills him vacillates between a realistic stage fight and an expressionistic dance fight, and leaves us wishing a stronger choice had been made in either direction. Frederick Franzil steals the show as Some Guy Two, the cocaine-eating loony caught up with his partner in crime/greed Some Guy One (Mick Swiney), in a never-ending cycle of stress, tension and stimulation. Swiney has some of the best moments of the show as he pirouettes and twirls his way to the hospital trying to get patched up after yet one more act of stylized violence.

The ‘film noir” comes courtesy mainly only Sarah Woodworth’s costume for the gangster Don, Curt Matthew (looking splendid in hat and gloves; wielding with gleeful coldness a particularly nasty looking sword-cane). The story is aided by if not always revelatory usually interesting photography by Nigel Robinson and projections courtesy Simona Noera. The main problem with moving light in the theatre is that regardless of quality, it continually draws the eye and is usually of more interest, upstaging the live performers, as it does here.

For a sex, drugs and rock-n-roll piece the drugs and rock-n-roll fare okay but the sex is dirty, squalid and completely un-appealing - much like every character in the story--you really don’t want to meet any of these people in your life. Ever. Overall, the production is at its best when working in non-realistic forms--the vocal jibberish and convulsions of Some Guy Two after he had eaten another bag of cocaine; the dance-like exchanges between the Nurse and Some Guy One at the hospital and the first exchanges of cash. The show buckles when the actors fall back on naturalistic choices and language-- performers whispering improvised lines in English destroys the world of the play Fritz and Rada try so hard to create.

Director and Lighting Designer Rada provides one visually arresting image that stays with you long after the curtain has closed--Lit’s Nurse finding Swiney broken and bleeding on a deserted street. Played downstage in harsh front light with their large shadows dominating a back wall covered with a graffiti projection, the shadows became Rada’s most successful attempt to substitute these characters for all of us. Suddenly, for a brief moment confronted with the image of a female form tending a wounded man in obvious pain, we are reminded of the potential for humanity within these characters and they transcend the limitations of their stock types--giving us a window into the deeply conflicted inner lives and contradictions that motivate their actions.

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