Travels well


January 30, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Vladimir Mayakovsky's Russian futurist play, "The Bath House," wasn't a hit when it opened in his native land in 1930, and there aren't many opportunities to see it these days. But Impossible Industrial Action has staged an intriguing revival, now being presented at Towson State University as part of the Experimental Theatre Festival co-sponsored by the university and the Theatre Project.

Lest there be any question of authorship, the company is calling the production, "Mayakovsky's BATH HOUSE," and ironically, the title points up the fact that this local troupe seems to do its best work with existing scripts, as opposed to original material.

The story -- transposed to Baltimore in 1991 and adapted by Ro Malone and Sarah Peyton -- concerns a mad scientist who has invented a time machine. Frenetically portrayed by Robb Bauer, he is more than a little reminiscent of Christopher Lloyd in the "Back to the Future" movies. But instead of using hismachine to transport someone from the present, the scientist uses it to import a visitor from the next century (Donna Sherman).

This may seem like typical science fiction, but Mayakovsky included a political layer as well. The play pits the scientist and his dreams against intransigent government bureaucrats (harrumphingly portrayed by actors including Tony Tsendeas, Joey Schurr, Connie Winston, Thomas E. Cole and Hurley Cox). Attacking bureaucracy has been an ongoing theme of Impossible Industrial Action, which may explain the choice of this relatively obscure script.

The production's chief departure from Mayakovsky is that instead of depicting a Communist utopia-to-be, it focuses on a more fully realized future democracy. The play makes the political shift fairly neatly, although the change in philosophy does nothing to ameliorate the shortcomings inherent in the text, i.e., didacticism, a too-abrupt ending and the lack of a substantive picture of the future utopia.

Although the acting and direction often feel rudimentary, Impossible Industrial Action's production offers a chance to see a rarely produced piece of recent theater history.

"Mayakovsky's BATH HOUSE" continues at Towson State's rTC Mainstage Theatre Thursday through Sunday; call 830-2787.

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