Playwright: Dorota Maslowska. At: Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland. Tickets: 773-384-0494; . www.trapdoortheatre.com; $20. Runs through: June 27
Tiny Trap Door is Chicago's go-to playhouse for contemporary Eastern European theater, such as this 2006 work that ran for two years in Warsaw, Poland. With its bleak comedy, shifting perspectives and shifting identities of its two principal characters, A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians is rooted in European absurdism with just a pinch of surrealism. It concerns scruffy social outcasts—people you'd cross the street to avoid—and how our perceptions of them may differ from the reality of who they are.
Set in the Polish countryside near Warsaw, it portrays Dzina and Parcha, a young, punked-out, glue-sniffing and aggressive couple. They could be clowns as costumed by Beata Pilch and Sarah Walls Rosenberg, especially Parcha in mismatched half-pants and striped leggings. Parcha speaks too loudly, and he and Dzina invade people's personal space. They look—and are—unwashed yet complain about the scatological stench of others. In four independent vignettes, they interface with a frightened man who gives them a ride after they force themselves into his car, a waitress, a wealthy drunken woman and a diseased old man. These four characters seem to represent societal norms ranging from proper social behavior to religious belief.
But it's not as simple as that, for Dzina and Parcha may be more than the poor displaced Romanians they say they are, desperate to return to their country. Parcha may be a Polish TV star on a drug-fueled weekend fling with a casual pick-up. Now, having lost his money and his cell phone, he's unable to return to Warsaw in time for his 8 a.m. shoot. Both he and the pregnant Dzina are filled with self-disgust at lives that seem increasingly bizarre ( as represented by the exaggerated "normal" people ) and meaningless, with substance abuse and loveless sex as the only escapes.
It's a barebones production as directed by Max Truax and designed by Ewelina Dobiesz ( set ) , Richard Norwood ( lighting ) and Aaron Covich ( videos of a snowy forest and foundering ship ) . A dog-leg of gray walls with several shredded posters defines the empty stage, with four wooden chairs completing the scenery in a production that rarely wanders from black, white and gray. Acting must carry this production, and it certainly does with Tiffany Bedwell as Dzina and Kevin Cox as Parcha. Bedwell's appealing gamin look makes one wonder why this quietly-deep young woman has hooked with the creepy Parcha. Cox, fresh from outstanding work in Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's Playing With Fire, conveys almost-out-of-control energy in Parcha's drug-fueled early scenes and desperation as the binge high wears off.
Something of the play's European context and theatrical style—that absurdist aesthetic—is lost on American audiences, but viewers will identify with its well-done contemporary distillation of existential angst, spiritual malaise and vague threat.