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Knock: A Journey to a Strange Country

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

The cast of KNOCK.
Photo by George Itzhak.

Welcome to the world of abstract surrealism, as embodied in the Lost & Found Project's Knock: A Journey to a Strange Country, now on view in a complexly crafted and intensely acted production at the Players Theatre.

Anyone seeking linear storytelling should go elsewhere, but if you are drawn to expressionistic theater, which is more concerned with the workings of the human psyche under duress than it is with such mundane matters as plot, then head on down to catch a performance of this work, inspired by the poetry and stories of the Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms.

Before we go further into the production itself—created by the company that bills itself as "the only Russian-Jewish ensemble in New York City" and that functions as a division of National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) FolksbieneRU—it might be useful to note that Kharms, seen as a threat to the totalitarian Soviet state, died in a Soviet psychiatric prison cell in 1941. Thus, Knock is laden with a feeling of underlying dread and justifiable paranoia that permeates the lives of the Russian Jews depicted in the work.

The tone is created through a series of fragmented scenes that are connected only thematically or by repetition of key lines. We get a sense of a stratum of society in which individuals strive to protect themselves through anonymity and invisibility, and where being singled out or the pounding of the dreaded knock at the door can place your very life at risk. There are acts of bureaucratic intimidation, acts of violence, and acts that defy logic, such as the story of the man who could walk through walls. In one affecting scene, a doctor feeds poison pills to otherwise healthy individuals in order to study the nature of death.

There are also scenes of surprising uplift (a dance, a performance of a folk tune), and wanderings into Kharms' creative mind ("There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn't have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily"). There is even a suggestion that what we are watching exists in the same "multiverse" as is inhabited by the characters in the Broadway production of Nick Payne's Constellations, where you could attribute the constant shifts of scene to quantum mechanics and string theory.

The nine members of the cast, many of whom hail from the region which is being depicted, throw themselves vigorously into their performances and find an amazing amount of depth on which to develop their characterizations. Director Alexandre Marine (who has adapted the material in collaboration with cast member Boris Zilberman) manages to keep all of the plates spinning in the air for the entire 90 minutes. The production is also nicely abetted by the black-and-white set design (by the director and Ilya Medvinskiy) and Dmitri Marine's musical scoring. All succeed at creating the "strange country" to which we are invited to journey.

Knock: A Journey to a Strange Country
Through March 22
The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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