The premiere of a fairly interesting new adaptation of Vladimir Mayakovsky's "The Bath House," being performed by Impossible Industrial Action in the Mainstage Theatre at Towson State University, is part of the continuing Experimental Theatre Festival sponsored by the college and the Theatre Project.
Translated by Alaskan poet and Russian scholar, Sarah Peyton, the novel multimedia version of the playwright's 1930 Russian futuristic and political sci-fi satire has been adapted for the stage by Peyton and IIA resident artist Ro Malone.
The play mixes various forms of comedy, including broad slapstick, with some pretty impressive slide animation and live music, composed by Mark Harp and Mike DeJong. There are 20 actors plus the musicians.
According to director Kirby Malone, the modern rendition is one that captures the spirit of the piece rather than simply being a literal translation. Mayakovsky's original work (the title refers to a Russian idiom) criticized Soviet society for moving away from the populist goals that inspired the Russian Revolution of 1917. A visitor from a future successful socialist society shows the overbearing bureaucrats the error of their ways.
In the IIA production, the play is set in 1991 America where "materialism and big government" have replaced the democratic ideals established during the American Revolution. The bureaucratic titans who control the country scoff at idealism claiming, "We don't need dreamers! We need accountants!"
Power is in the hands of a few and the people follow like sheep. But in the midst of this social lethargy a certain Professor Crash has built a time machine, which he says belongs to all humanity. His mission is to find the perfect democracy somewhere in infinity.
An altruistic female time traveler from 2091 drops in (by way of the time unit) to tell about the pure democratic world in which she dwells.
Some citizens may go back with her she says if they are endowed with those values that will still be true 100 years from now.
The play is timely in its humorous criticism of the present state of the country. The main character is an egocentric government executive who is Resource Allocation Director of the Department of Budget and Finance. His desk is, ironically, a reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial.
A moral and religious hypocrite he is a greedy profiteer manipulating people for his own benefit.
The script for "The Bath House" is much too wordy, lacking important action to hold the audience's interest. Here is a golden opportunity for Malone's group to employ stunning multimedia images (as they have in the past) to convey the message they are trying to impart. But they only succeed partially in this.
Each character has a point of view but it is not always clear what that point is.
The play does have some moments and obviously a tremendous amount of work went into the creation of this production. However, the blocking and positioning of the actors is not clean-cut. The timing of important bits of business is off and the vocal projection of the actors is poor.
A work of this sociological caliber needs a dynamic cast and an innovative, fast-paced style clearly defining the various comedy forms. With the exception of Tony Tsendeas's effective interpretation of the Allocation Director, most of the actors seem very inexperienced and turn in uninspired performances.
The role of Professor Crash should be a more prominent one since he is the catalyst. But he is lost in the crowd of other assorted types and actor Robb Bauer has no chance to develop this character.
"The Bath House" continues tonight through Sunday.