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Ferdydurke

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Ferdydurke, at the Chopin Theater. This adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz's 1937 absurdist satirical novel, Ferdydurke, by two Polish companies, Teatr Provisorium and Kompanie Teatr, is strictly for people who know the original--and know it well. For others these random scenes are just baffling. Though the piece throws off lots of theatrical heat with its broad physical humor, clever stage pictures, and strange dialogue, it tells no coherent story and provides no conventional character development.

This may reflect Gombrowicz's rebellion against the restraints of conformist bourgeois society. Certainly his novel--about a 30-year-old man compelled to return to elementary school, where he relives all the tortures of his youth--sounds like it was meant to be a big gob of spit in the eye of conventional thinking. But it's hard to believe that the novel (popular in Poland, where it was repressed by both the Nazis and the Soviets) is as artless and clunky as this staging.

The problem could be Janusz Oprynski and Witold Mazurk-iewicz's direction: it's often nearly impossible to figure out the characters' intentions. Or it could be the translation, which sounds odd and artificial, as if the person doing it didn't fully understand English. Or perhaps the actors can't perform believably in English. Whatever, this 90-minute play feels a good 75 minutes too long.

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