New World Performance Lab’s Studio 2 Inaugural Production makes a Powerful Political Statement

“How can someone have teeth like that and still procreate,” asks a driver who has been taken hostage by the two title characters in the New World Performance Laboratory Studio 2 production of A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians. To be honest, this is a question I ask myself whenever I encounter couples where one or both of the partners have extremely fucked up teeth– but that’s just a personal bias.

According to the playbill, “NWPL’s Studio 2 is a project to introduce a new generation of theatre artists to the investigative methodology and work of New World Performance Laboratory.”  (Before I continue my review of Romanians, I must make one more confession. I am listed as the graphic designer for this play, though I did no more than create the flier using a concept given to me by the director, James Slowiak.)

Walking into the Balch Street Theatre, the space was utterly transformed by heavy-duty plastic sheeting– reminiscent of the scene in ET where the sinister government scientists quarantine Eliot’s house. It completely covered the entire performance space and was even hung to create separate playing areas.

Two waitresses at a roadside diner disbelieve Blightly when he admits to being a famous TV actor.
From L-R: India Burton, Kim Woodworth, Bobby Round and Jovana Bukvic
Photo Credit: Fenna Blue

Romanians begins with 3 characters, driving together in a car. Quickly we learn that the driver (Avery McCullough) is there under duress, scared for his life. The other two are dressed in rags with extremely bad teeth. Gina, the pregnant woman (Jovana Bukvic), doesn’t speak much and Blighty, the man (Bobby Round), act more than a little crazy. As the play progresses, we learn that these characters aren’t who they claim to be and, as their drug-induced road trip twists and turns on a lonely road in Poland, so do their lives.

The majority of the action takes place in a car signified by a raked platform painted to look like the “Poland” square from the game of Risk, a subtle metaphor used to underscore the menace of the situation in which the characters find themselves.

It was a treat to see Slowiak create a straightforward piece of theatre without any of his directorial flourishes (there were no moments derived from Noh Theatre, no collaboratively written adaptations of the script and no classic texts reimagined with contemporary music.) In Romanians, Slowiak allowed the Polish playwright, Dorota Maslowska to speak for herself. The translation of the text by Benjamin Paloff captured the dark humor, terror and social commentary for an English speaking audience.

Though the ending moments of the play felt somewhat rushed and confused, as a whole, Slowiak chose a piece that speaks directly to our current political and economic climate. This is a piece that begs to be performed as part of a larger festival or political rally. (Occupy Wall Street protestors, eat your heart out.)

Gina (Bukvic) and Blightly (Round) and their terrible, horrible, no good very bad teeth.
Photo Credit: Fenna Blue

Yet the true strength of this production lies in the ensemble. I’ve had the fortune of working with several of the actors involved on a number of different projects; however, I was genuinely surprised by almost everyone’s performance. I was sucked into their vividly drawn characters, practically forgetting the actors in the process. Occasionally someone would slip into a habitual way of speaking or moving, which would probably go unnoticed by someone less familiar with their work. Unfortunately, at times, Bukvic allowed herself to be overshadowed by the skills of her fellow actors, especially by her scene partner, Round, whose ominous energy carried the show. (Her best moments were throughout her final monologue.)

 If you’re in Akron– or Northeast Ohio– A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians is a must see production, performed by a group of energetic up-and-coming actors who are making a big splash into our theatre community. The show continues to run June 21-23. Tickets are $10 with a special price 2-for-1 on Thursday. Call (330) 867-3299 for reservations.

Ensemble:
Playwright: Dorota Maslowska
Translator: Benjamin Paloff
Cast: Jovana Bukvic, India Burton, Christopher Hariasz, Avery McCullough,
Bobby Round, Kim Woodworth
Director: James Slowiak
Stage Manager: Sarah Jones
Set/Costume Designer: Inda Blatch-Geib
Lighting Designer: Steven Bornhoeft

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director

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