Broadcast text reviews of LICKING KNIVES and MAN TO MAN

by Lynn on December 11, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, Dec.11, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, Licking Knives and Man to Man at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Dec. 20, 2015.

The Host was Phil Taylor.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What treats do you have for us this week?

I’m talking about a double bill of plays I saw yesterday at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace; each dealing with the power of women to survive in dire circumstances.

First Licking Knives, written and performed by Melanie Hrymak which tells the powerful story of a woman surviving in Ukraine before, during and after the various invasions of that country.

And then Man to Man by Manfred Karge, and is another one woman play that illuminates the history of Germany from the rise of the Nazis to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from the point of view of one extraordinary, ordinary woman.

Let’s start with Licking Knives—provocative title.

Licking Knives is written and performed by Melanie Hrymak. It’s one woman’s survival from growing up on her family’s small farm in rural Ukraine. She was one of six children; three boys and three girls.

Coincidentally it deals with issues of invasion that Wormwood did, that I reviewed last week. In Licking Knives we are told about how first the Russians invaded Ukraine and then the Germans. The narrator’s brothers were corralled into fighting for one of these armies.

Two of the girls were forced into a kind of domestic service. Our narrator tells of being transported in an airless railroad car to work in a mine; of being so sick she could hardly stand and of being liberated. But she didn’t go home. She went to Paris.

How is it as a play? I know you had trouble with Wormwood.

I liked Licking Knives a lot. Writer/performer Melanie Hrymak is a poetic, yet spare writer. Her images are vivid—you can sense the airlessness of the train cars she was in with other prisoners.

There is a sense of foreboding in her storytelling and you certainly understand the fearlessness and single-mindedness of her main character, our narrator.

When she was a young girl, the narrator was the child that her father trusted most to help him with a plan he had to fool the authorities. She would have to have pluck to survive what she did.

We hear stories about women being brutalized in the very situation that our narrator had been in. So I found it interesting that our narrator doesn’t mention any time that she was violated. I was prepared for that revelation but it never came. I don’t think I missed it.

It’s to Melanie Hrymak’s credit as both a writer and an actress in the role that she takes the audience along every twist and turn in the story. We think it might go one way and it goes another. Interesting work there.

How is the production?

There is a simple table and a stylish chair. Our narrator enters and she’s very classy. You think of a photo of Audrey Hepburn in a little black dress. Is she a model? Our narrator wears a smart coat which she takes off and puts on the back of the chair. Under the coat she wears a black dress that flairs. The straps sit on her shoulders/arms. She wears a crucifix around her neck. She removes beige gloves, and a modified flat beret type hat. She wears heels. This is a vision of a citizen of Paris.

Hrymak tells the story simply and quietly. She either stands facing us, sits in her chair or kneels on the floor. It’s a compelling performance especially when she says at the end that she is whoever we want her to be. Lots of mystery there.

I do have one concern and that is that too often intrusive music and sound cues are inserted into the storytelling and I think that gets in the way. Cut the sounds effects and music and just let the story speak for itself.

There is no director listed so I figure that Melanie Hrymak put in the music and sound effects herself along with her sound collaborator Tessa Springate

Now tell us about Man to Man</strong>.

It was written by Manfred Karge in about 1986. Karge was noted as an East German playwright. This is when the Berlin Wall was still up.

The play is an allegory of Germany from the rise of the Nazis to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We see these events through the eyes of Ella Gericke. Ella is married to Max Gericke. Max is a crane operator and he’s sick, but he didn’t go to the doctor until it was too late. Max had cancer and eventually died, but didn’t tell anyone.

Ella has to make a living so she decides to impersonate Max and do his job. She disguises herself as a man and is successful in passing herself off as her husband. She works the crane. She drinks beer with the men and is as loud as they are. She drinks a lot at home to help her get through the loneliness.

Nazis are on the rise. She worries she (or Max really) will be called up to fight. She goes from job to job. One is a soul-crushing job making plastics and elastics.

She keeps her passport as a woman under her mattress—for 60 years. So the allegory here is the story of a person with two identities (one as a woman and one as a man) compared with a country with two identities (East and West Germany).

So this is another play about the resilience of women.

It is. The company that is producing both plays is Headstrong Theatre Collective. They produced the wonderful production of Boston Marriage last year, directed by Kelli Fox. They wanted to pair two plays that illustrate the same theme—the resilience of women, this time in two different countries—and therefore the resilience of women everywhere. These two shows fit the bill.

Manfred Karge’s play, Man To Man, is almost like Beckett—illusive, spare, clear and poetic. Karge has often been compared to Beckett.

And how’s the production?

It’s energetic, lively, and certainly puts you in the man’s world that Ella has to inhabit. As Ella, Lisa Karen Cox is boisterous as a stereotypical man. She starts off as a woman who is in domestic duty, but soon transforms herself into her husband’s world.

Her movements are big. She sits at a table with her drinking buddies with her legs spread as she leans back downing her beers. But in her solitary moments we see the drudgery of that world.

It’s directed with flourish by Kelli Fox. She uses music, projections, lighting effects and technical touches that serve the piece and don’t detract. Kudos to Matthew Lawrence and Tom Perry for the sound and Rebecca Picherack for lighting. Rebecca Picherack did the evocative lighting for both Licking Knives and Man to Man.

I think both Licking Knives and Man to Man are worth a look from a bold company that does bold theatre. The audience is always interesting at these small theatres. They are mainly young people. They support these indie companies. They speak to them and the ticket price won’t kill them. No one can say that the theatre going audience for indie theatre is dying out, as is said for big ticket shows. Attention should be paid here.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s Blog at twitter@slotkinletter

Licking Knives and Man to Man play at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace until Dec. 20.

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