Pains of Youth at Oracle Theatre: Theater review
Ferdinand Bruckner's depiction of sexual escapades among students in 1920s Vienna gets an ill-advised aesthetic update.
A drama detailing the sexual misadventures of six horny medical students might sound like a pitch for a new CW show, but dressing Ferdinand Bruckner’s 1923 play in Urban Outfitters doesn't make it hip or contemporary. Working from an adaptation by Martin Crimp, Odradek puts a modern spin on the script with a Logan Square design sense that includes tight jeans, plaid shirts, and the musical stylings of Sleigh Bells and M.I.A. The present-day setting conflicts with the antiquated dialogue and ultimately distracts from the story. This isn't like setting Julius Caesar in 2013; while the emotions of these characters may be universal, the dramatic weight of the events relies on the political environment of early 1920s Europe.
Written in the years immediately following World War I, Pains of Youth looks at six discontented students (and one maid) living in post-war Vienna. The political tension of that turbulent time in European history is lost when the play moves to the present. The intense reactions of these young adults are due to the fear and uncertainty of the era, but the specter of World War I is completely absent in Odradek's production. The translated dialogue also heavily resembles the formal speech patterns of early 20th-century academics, creating a disconnect between the language and the world on stage.
Bruckner's script plays out like Spring Awakening at the college level, showing how these students find escape through sex and violence. The pacing is incredibly quick, with the first act sprinting through each major relationship to leave the audience confused and overwhelmed when intermission hits barely 35 minutes later. It's downright comedic how rapidly these characters confess their romantic/sexual desires once they enter Marie's bedroom, but director Joshua Altman and his cast try to bring real emotion to the rushed proceedings.
Laura Lapidus's Marie convincingly makes a huge personality change between acts, and her scenes with rival Irena (Kelsey Ann Wacker) crackle with passionate rage as they fight over the same man. A similar fire lives in Kevin Duvall’s Freder, the duplicitous scoundrel who has the women around him hot and bothered. This cast has a lot of talent, but it can't compensate for the damage done by pulling the script out of its original context.