Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

Lost in the confusion

Written by Kirsten Brandt
Directed by Michael Severance and Jessa Watson

Sledgehammer Theatre
Saint Cecilia's Playhouse
Sixth and Cedar, San Diego, Calif.
Through March 16

What to make of Kirsten Brandt's "Berzerkergäng" at San Diego's Sledgehammer Theatre is quite the challenge.

For starters, it's in its world premiere, so we have no other interpretations to judge it against.

And it's ambitious — seeking to re-interpret the same Nordic mythology as Wagner's Ring Cycle, but in a modern (or post-modern) setting.

Finally, it's very alternative in tone and staging — the cacophonous sound effects, the outlandish costumes and the often-stunning set demand as much attention as Brandt's dialogue and action.

It is this alternative sensibility that eventually gets in the way of Brandt's story-telling, that ultimately makes her "Berzerkergäng" nearly impossible to follow.


Which is a shame, because there are many things to like about "Berzerkergäng." Transplanting valkyries to contemporary corporate America opens up some pretty interesting theatrical possibilities. The set design by David Lee Cuthbert and co-director Michael Severance does a good job of creating a surreal atmosphere, one that is equal bits Madison Avenue and Valhalla.

The lighting by Cuthbert and costumes by Corey Johnston also contribute to a rather wild air of fantasy.

But the combination of all these pieces with Jeff Mockus' over-the-top sound design serves to not only distract, but even numb the senses. It's all a bit too much — and makes following the story nearly impossible.

Not every play needs to be a linear narrative; but if you're going to present a play with a strong storyline, why would you choose to do so in a manner that makes following that story so very difficult?

That's the frustration of "Berzerkergäng": How did co-directors Michael Severance and Jessa Watson come out of dress rehearsals and preview shows with this mess of a production and think it was ready?

Perhaps it all makes sense if you're holding Brandt's script in front of you — and perhaps if the audience was given a detailed program to follow, it would seem less a disaster.

In its present form, unless you already know Wagner's story by heart, trying to make sense of "Berzerkergäng" is going to be more of a challenge than many of us are prepared to invest in an evening.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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