Pains of Youth | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Pains of Youth

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PAINS OF YOUTH, Eclipse Theatre Company. A huge German hit in 1926 and 1928, Ferdinand Bruckner's archly elliptical work examines a group of Viennese medical students who feel no one's pain but their own. The drama, full of aching postwar disillusionment and angst, cryptically depicts the students' dangerous power trips and game playing, walking a tightrope between expressionism and soap opera. Bored, jealous, alienated, lovelorn, or just plain kinky, they seek to seduce each other's mates or indulge in some daring (for the time) lesbian and bondage fantasies.

Bruckner sees adolescence as a psychosexual battle fraught with deadly desires, chilling corruption, and a lust for death. Only two of the six students--those driven by a desire to serve rather than a selfish regret for lost childhood--survive that battle with their psyches intact. But their motivations seem as arbitrary as anything else in this quirky and confused play, where many plot promises are not kept. (Perhaps part of the difficulty comes from Daphne Moore's new translation, which at times seems to need its own translation.)

The claustrophobia of Bruckner's ingrown world is intensified by Scott Haven and Ken Puttbach's cluttered set. But James Bohnen's staging misses the sexual tension that must precede the students' passionate predations. Despite over-the-top fulminations from Virginia Hamilton as a dominatrix countess, the pains of these youths are anesthetized before they can be felt. Their inability to confront these feelings makes it hard to sympathize with their struggles. Oddly uneven, the acting is too decorous for a play that must once have been considered very hot stuff.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Bridges.

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