Review: Ghostbird burns up Fort Myers with blazing 'Woyzech'

Brittany Albury in 'Woyzeck.' Photo by Barry Cavin and design by Phil Heubeck.

Ghostbird Theatre Company

Brittany Albury in "Woyzeck." Photo by Barry Cavin and design by Phil Heubeck.

IF YOU GO

What: Soldier falls apart from the grind of life

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday & Sunday; doors open at 7 p.m.

Where: Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center, 2301 First St., downtown Fort Myers

Cost: $10

Information: 239-333-1933 or sbdac.com; ghostbird theatre company.org

Something Else: Mature language & sexual content

On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog

The fourth time proves the charm for Ghostbird Theatre Company. The company's second effort in their sophomore season finds nearly every piece of the puzzle - music, acting, staging, costumes - falling into place. Director Barry Cavin's Appalachian-inspired take on Georg Buchner's "Woyzech" doesn't just catch fire, it burns. Powered by Philip Heubeck's tingling mountain music and led by Brittany Albury's bravura performance, the show captivates.

"Woyzech" follows a plain and simple army man as his world unravels. Based in part on the real-life story of a mentally ill German ex-soldier, the show sees Woyzeck interact with villagers, find comfort with a fellow soldier in the barracks and discover his wife's infidelity.

Cavin, using a translation by Dan Farrelly, transports the action to the hollers. As Ghostbird is still growing, he uses an almost all-female cast to preserve (and ramp up) the original's male-on-male tensions. The smaller cast also presents the play as "an entertainment," using the framing device of buskers putting on a play. Full credit to an excellent ensemble for making this vision a gorgeous, compelling reality.

Buchner left the work unfinished. A tragedy, "Woyzeck" also serves as social commentary. Buchner uses common man Woyzeck to remark on disparity, the aspirations of the middle class and self-deception in general.

"Woyzech" turns out the unlikely perfect home for Heubeck's original music (LISTEN TO A SAMPLE). Scripted as tiny bits of poetry, the piece becomes a near-musical when backed by Pearlie Mae & the Crawdaddy Boys. Heubeck, joined by Chris Ludvigsen and Ghostbird founder Brittney Brady pluck, strum, bang, clang and play.

The music weaves the story (just 80 minutes) together. Think a weathered granny, sitting on a dusty porch, rocking, spinning tales to enraptured children as crickets sing in the baking afternoon sun. Never too loud, but subtle - and dressed the part, Brady in dramatic white with flowers in her hair, the men in ragged pants, neckerchiefs and worn hats.

The bare space in the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center alcove - again - offers the challenge and reward of bare space staging. Ghostbird continues to meet (and exceed) this challenge like no other community theatre company.

Actors sit on either side of the stage on hard wooden benches. Signs, like at a boxing match, but written in marker on bits of cardboard scavenged from boxes, announce the scene - "THE BARRACKS." Characters leap up into a dance, a tavern, a caress. Puppets, a light and a simple screen create shadows, silhouettes, love-making and embraces.

Cavin gets a brilliant performance from Albury. The actress allows us to see a woman driven mad by a sullen existence, but holds open the possibility of true insanity. The comfort of soft arms yanked away by infidelity, Albury and a marvelous, sad-eyed Rebakah Goldeberg (Andres) create a magical tryst on a barrack bed. Hanny Zuniga whimpers and whines as sloe-eyed, simpering, unfaithful Marie.

Look for Jackie DeGraaf, stern, booted and ever-present pipe to bark orders as the grotesque Captain. Cavin asked DeGraaf to remove all traces of femininity; she does, growling her lines in a voice that could peel tile off the floor. I love how Cavin re-stages a pivotal "shaving" scene.

Katelyn Gravel achieves wonders with a simple but effective hair, make-up and costume design that isn't so much slavishly faithful as obviously indicative of a time and place. Corsets, boots, leather and military-inspired garb give the appearance of the military. Simpler brown dresses and straw hats offer a taste of the country. Sarah Blinkhorn's fabulous "working girl" displays ample assets under a shawl and atop ripped fishnets.

Three notes.

Simplify the staging even more. This should become a mantra, especially for the area's amateur companies. As good as "Woyzeck" is at creating theater's "magic bubble," moving unneeded props in and out of the space slows the show. Every entrance and exit yanks the audience out of the moment, if only for a split second.

Speak up. That alcove might be the most attractive space for experimental theatre in town, especially as it forces Ghostbird to think in creative, inventive ways. But the acoustics, especially with a crowd, leave much to be desired, especially for singing.

Finally, seating. Stagger your chairs by a half-length, otherwise everyone stares at the back of someone else's head. Unless folks claim a seat in the first three rows, it can be difficult to see much of anything.

I wonder if I could pull off a corset? Lift & separate! Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

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