What a difference a good production makes. Polish scribe Przemyslaw Wojcieszek’s enjoyable angry-young-man comedy, “Made in Poland,” is about as culturally specific as you can get, but with frequently ingenious helmer Jackson Gay leading a wonderful ensemble cast, auds can take the script’s obscure references in stride. As with nearly any competently executed farce, this is a well-oiled machine, but Gay goes the extra mile, teasing out hidden depths in nearly all of the offbeat characters, especially our chronically furious hero.
When we first see teenage Bogus (Kit Williamson), it’s immediately apparent he’s a deeply troubled young man. No, it’s not anything he says, at first. It’s not his combat boots, hoodie, or rolled-up jeans; nor is it his surroundings — Ola Maslik’s grimy aluminum set, which clanks and dings like a Williams-Sonoma during an earthquake. It’s the fact that he’s got “FUCK OFF” tattooed on his forehead.
“Understated” is the wrong word, but Williamson’s hilariously serious perf as an angst-filled wannabe revolutionary strikes exactly the right note. As he wanders around his little town in post-Communist Poland, vandalizing cars and trashing phone booths, the unfairness of everything becomes so oppressive he delivers Bogus’ every line like it’s a prelude to a fistfight. So, while Bogus has no problem getting his ass kicked, he has considerably more trouble talking to women. “Will you be my girlfriend?” he demands of Monika (the very funny Natalia Zvereva), a cute blonde from the right side of the tracks. Like so many things in this play, her answer is surprising.
Alissa Valles’ translation strains a little too hard to recast every cultural cue (locals call the loony parish priest “X-Files” because he claims to have had a vision). Still, it does an admirable job of capturing the characters themselves, and the plight of a young man whose future looks increasingly bleak.
After landing in hot water with local gangsters (Ryan O’Nan, Jayce Bartok and the multitasking Eva Kaminsky ), Bogus pleads for guidance from someone in pretty much every corner of society — a routine that has the potential to become a really boring walking tour of everything that’s wrong with Polish institutions.
But instead, Bogus’ interactions are almost always funny and occasionally deeply touching. His chat with Father Edmund (Ed Vassallo) goes poorly and his conversation with his careworn mother Irena (Karen Young) even less well. But it’s his Communist teacher Viktor (Rob Campbell) who really cuts to the bone.
Drunk and terminally bitter after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Viktor’s apathy is directly proportionate to Bogus’ passion. “Have some tea,” he responds drily to Bogus’ lengthy discourse on the problems of the world. When Viktor decides that he has to stop being an embarrassment in order to help Bogus find his way, his excruciating resurrection is genuinely moving.
Gay’s work may have fewer pyrotechnics than that of some of her contemporaries, but she has utterly mastered the finicky art of lucidly staging an ambiguous new play.
As she did with “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” three years ago and “Len, Asleep in Vinyl” more recently, the director has encouraged her actors to play whole people even when their characters only have a few lines. Between that and her unerring instinct for comic timing, Gay has provided a road into an extremely challenging piece of theater in a way that wholly justifies the Play Company’s ambition (the company frequently produces foreign work in English). Here’s hoping there are similar collaborations in the works.