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The Story of the Panda Bear...
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE | THEATER REVIEW | WINDY CITY TIMES

The premise is that of a romantic comedy: A slacker-ly young man wakes up with a girl in his bed whose name he does not remember. Nor does he remember where and how they met, their journey to his squalid apartment or what they did after they got there. The young woman is happy to explain, however—indeed, so reassuring is her recollection of the facts that he pleads with her to stay. She promises to return that night. He promises to wait for her.

And wait he does, surrendering his keys to her; ignoring his telephone and doorbell; and sequestering himself in his squalid quarters. His only activities are those she claims first attracted her attention—his saxophone music and his recitations of Baudelaire. She keeps her word, arriving with groceries and domestic plans. Soon they are engaging in improvisational games designed to forge a private language. But just when we think this will be some lurid exploration of kinky dominance-and-submission sex à la 9 1/2 Weeks, she brings home a black-shrouded cage containing a mysterious pet with preternatural breeding habits; the answering machine takes on a life of its own; and the alarm clock that the lady carries with her everywhere suddenly begins to take on ominous aspects.

Well, this is a French play. And while there might be Gallic playwrights whose aesthetic includes representational drama, those leaning toward philosophical abstraction are more likely to be favored by Americans of Francophile inclination—in particular, by companies comprised of young artists who relish the opportunities for individual interpretation offered by the genre’s subtext-heavy action.

This United States premiere production of Matéi Visniec’s L’histoire Des Ours Pandas Racontée Par un Saxophoniste Qui a Une Petite Amie à Francfort, rendered in Marella Oppenheim’s academic translation under the direction of Bryan White, features heroically focused performances by Kate Cares and Joseph M. Adamczak—most notably during the a cappella adagio dances showcasing Elizabeth Schmitz’s capable choreography, unfortunately hampered by ambient music from the bar located next door to the Steep Theatre playhouse. But 90 minutes of what amounts to a scene-study exercise, however admirably essayed and executed, is not enough to send us home enlightened or enriched to the extent necessary to fulfill Visniec’s pessimistic thesis.

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