The line between fear and desire, nightmare and fantasy, rage and lust, love and apathy, is blurry in Marie, It’s Time, a loose adaptation of Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck presented by playwright/director/performer Julia Jarcho’s Minor Theater. Where Buchner’s play centers around the title character, a soldier who has a mental breakdown and murders the mother of his illegitimate child, who may have been cheating on him, Jarcho’s narrative zeroes in on Marie, taking place mostly as Marie’s internal dialogue, between two sides of herself (played by Jarcho and Jennifer Seastone). Marie doesn’t know how to feel anymore: about the infant she’s now parenting; about Frank, her lover (who is at times impersonated by either Marie but is not an actor in the play); about Major (Kedian Keohan), a touring musician with whom Seastone’s Marie is infatuated.
Deep in Minor Theater’s website is a manifesto of sorts, a philosophy for the work that Jarcho and the rest of the company make together. (The three other core members, all involved in this production are director Ásta Bennie Hostetter, sound designer Ben Williams, and Seastone.) They write: “The True and the Good are not here, not yet, no matter how badly the guardians of culture want to stage them. Or WAIT: they are here, hiding deep in the cracks and crevices of our everyday experience. They are in the impulses and fantasies, the shivers and visions we have always been taught to repress, to ignore, because they make no sense, because they’re a waste of time, because no one will buy them, because they don’t fit together to make up an identity.”
Marie It’s Time fits neatly into this philosophy: it’s a play of cracks and crevices: The split between Marie’s warring impulses, embodied in the double-casting: Marie the mother vs Marie who stays out all night partying with a rock star. Marie who wants to leave vs Marie who wants to stay. The cracks in Marie and Frank’s relationship, at least as Marie sees it; he may never be cruel “on purpose” but still, in her dreams, he tells her, “You’ve never been safe.” (There is one pathway of the narrative here in which Marie ends up dead at Frank’s hands, but since the entire relationship is refracted through Marie’s consciousness, it’s hard to separate outcome from fantasy from fear.) The crevices in which the desires Marie doesn’t know how to verbalize hide: is she drawn to Major because he’s an androgynous rock star with genuine magnetism (more on Major in a bit), because she wants to hurt Frank, because she wants to prove her own desirability after having a baby, because she wants to prove her own repulsiveness after having a baby? All of this is in their dance, in the game that Marie plays with herself and with Frank, or at least with her imagined version of Frank. And it can be simultaneously true here that all of the violence is in Marie’s head, and that her fears and expectations of–and her inchoate excitement about–actual violence are real.
For Marie, what is the difference, in the end, between being a prostitute, role-playing a whore, and being treated as one just because that’s the way the world works? Her encounter with Major certainly seems to blur the lines. Major is the kind of man that you can spot at a hundred paces after enough time as a woman: Compliments himself and insults you in the guise of “honesty is important to me.” Says things like, “If you were a totally different person we could have an incredible life together.” Wants to be a good person, or at least to think of himself as a good person; wants to give Marie what she wants–and what she wants, or what he thinks she wants, is for him to call her “disgusting.” And he can’t quite figure out whether that upsets him or turns him on. Keohan strikes just the right blend of obliviousness and narcissism; his Major has always been the coolest guy in the room and it never occurs to him to question it. (The songs, by Jeff Aaron Bryant, fit nicely into the world of the play–melodic but with a little twist of something unsavory in Jarcho’s lyrics. If you saw them in a club, you might think “Wow, that guy’s trying to be deep”…but then you might get them stuck in your mind anyway.)
Hostetter’s direction and the performances remain on the stylized side, sometimes shifting into the explicitly presentational with the use of microphones, which contributes to the ambiguity about what’s real and what’s imagined, fantasized, and told as a story. But the connection between Seastone and Jarcho feels like the realest thing in the play-world–they’re locked into each other from minute one as they negotiate who and how Marie is.
I found the physical environment a little fussy and overly complex–Meredith Ries’s set is full of alcoves and half-hidden interior spaces, but the staging doesn’t always make coherent use of them. Ebony Burton’s lighting, similarly, has lots of bits of sparkle, but sometimes feels disjointed, like the lighting is impeding one’s view rather than enhancing it.
In Woyzeck, Franz definitely murders Marie; here, that’s only one of the possibilities. The end of the play allows for the possibility of something else, something that if it’s not quite a happy ending, then at least one that allows for the possibility of contentment. One where “we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.” I’m not sure I believe in it, not in Julia Jarcho’s world, but I want to.