Pole Position

The young always accuse the previous generation of screwing up the world--and very often for good reason. But when they try to go and fix it, there's another fine mess to clean up. Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek's Tango is a social allegory with an absurdist twist--there's a thread of reason running though the story, but the imagery is crazy. Germinal Stage Denver's sprightly production is as smart and goofy as possible: Mrozek's political and social allusions don't always manage to leap the culture gap, but the show's good-hearted pessimism about generational conflict is absolutely universal.

The set is strewn with clothes and uncomfortable furniture. Two old people dressed in clownish, look-alike suits sit playing cards with Eddie, a thug in a stained undershirt and greasy ponytail. Into this disorder enters young Arthur in natty business suit and tie, utterly disgusted with his surroundings, his grandparents and the enigmatic Eddie. Arthur can't stand the disarray, and to make matters worse, he soon realizes his mother, a hippie artist named Eleanor, is having an affair with Eddie. She describes the joy of watching this "basic" fellow eat and digest. Yuck.

When Dad Stomil enters in pj's and bunny slippers, raving about art, experimental theater and revolution, the familial picture is complete--Arthur is obviously rebelling against the decadence he has inherited from his parents' generation. With all their pseudo-philosophical rationalizations for raising enough hell to create a moral vacuum, these self-absorbed parents are really just incapable of doing anything right. They who once represented the radical new are now the conventional has-beens.

Arthur's girl materializes mysteriously (Lisa Lyons plays Ala as a Meg Ryan/Barbie-doll slut, very funny in her petulant mode), and he asks her to marry him. He wants to return to traditional values and clean up the culture. Stomil and Eleanor have made it impossible to rebel, he says, because they've already done all the rebelling. Arthur tries to get his father to kill Eddie and Eleanor for the sake of honor. Stomil, who uses art to escape life, thinks Eddie just wants a tragedy, which by definition is final--and experimental theater, Stomil points out with a flourish, is never final. Poor Arthur tries all sorts of things to make things right, but life just can't be stuffed into his formal requirements. Tradition apparently doesn't work, but neither does social chaos, and in the end, when there is no order, order is established by the least worthy: Eddie the goon.

Tom Puckett as Arthur is all fine nerves and earnest, tortured angst. Ed Baierlein is grandly asinine as Stomil--no one in town does this kind of exaggerated gesturing and stylish comedy better. Grandparents Eugenie and Eugene (Laura Booze and Chuck Muller) are a lively match. And Erica Sarzin-Borrillo is terrific as Eleanor, moving like a dancer and making immense theatrical gestures as a droll grande dame. But the most charismatic of them all is John Seifert as Eddie, latent Neanderthal man.

The long, complicated rhetorical riffs Mrozek's characters spout are amusing because they sound smart but really are fatuous. Polish political satire is entertaining if not, strictly speaking, informative. It's amorphous, ambiguous and tricky--the witty repartee of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead without the metaphysics. The play sets chaos against order and freedom against convention, but on a strictly earthly plane. And the only answer it offers is a frightening joke: The brute with the gun settles the dispute without recourse to reason--or art.--Mason

Tango, through April 14 at Germinal Stage Denver, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 455-7108.


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