Kaspar | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Kaspar, TinFish Theatre. Playwright Peter Handke takes perverse pleasure in subverting an audience's expectations. His best-known work, Kaspar, is a case in point: what begins as an allegorical account of 19th-century orphan Kaspar Hauser evolves into an exploration of language and reaches its height as an exercise in alienation. Like most of Handke's work, Kaspar is antitheatrical to its core, and most of director Marc Collins's missteps in this ambitious production stem from his attempts to make the play more stage worthy. Most egregious, Collins has split the role of the Prompter--a Big Brother-like disembodied voice that speeds Kaspar's ascent into higher consciousness--into three separate characters.

Still, Collins's staging admirably adheres to the play's prevailing dictum: nothing is sacrosanct. In the first act, a member of the production staff breaks the fourth wall by videotaping part of the performance. And in the second, Kaspar (Nate White) goes hoarse shouting his monologue when the four alternate Kaspars discover musical instruments and perform an impromptu rendition of the theme from Sanford and Son.

But the political and theatrical urgency that must have permeated the play in its initial staging over three decades ago is missing here. Without it, Kaspar isn't much more than a piece of button-pushing agitprop--though just ten minutes into the show it still has the power to make audience members shift in their seats.

--Nick Green

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