The Old Woman Broods rejects decadent capitalism in favor of absurdism | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The Old Woman Broods rejects decadent capitalism in favor of absurdism

Its grotesque comedy is the perfect antidote to holiday cheer.

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Like a George Grosz drawing come to life, Tadeusz Różewicz's 1969 satire about an old woman who wants to repopulate the world with her own progeny vacillates between over-the-top grotesque comedy, absurdism, and pitch-black existential despair.

Set in a purgatory-like cafe with plasticked-over windows populated by a cast of ghoulish, beat-up looking characters who seem anchored to this wretched spot for eternity, the narrative—such as it is—centers on the Old Woman (Manuela Rentea, in a fiercely committed performance) and her quest to find a doctor who will allow her to once again give birth. In the meantime, a waiter—her only human contact—keeps trying to take her food order, then disappears to join the army or do a series of other similarly random tasks.

The outside world is referenced in broad strokes through allusions to climate change, war, and other insurmountable global issues, but all the actual drama plays out in the woman's mind, and everyone else on stage with her is probably a manifestation of its drift. Written in communist Poland within the tradition of the Theater of the Absurd, Różewicz's nightmarish vision is updated here with just enough contemporary references to strike a balance between the timely and the entirely out of time. There were many moments when I didn't know exactly what the Old Woman was talking about, but I never once doubted her deep desire for some sort of relief from suffering for both herself and the world in its entirety. It all makes poetic sense while dispensing with much narrative logic. Nicole Wiesner directed.   v

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