Gruff speech, confusion out the wazoo, outrageous characters — that’s just the start of what’s in store for you when you go to see New World Performance Laboratory’s (NWPL) finely-performed production of Dorota Maslowska’s “A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians” (CPPSR) at the Balch Street Theatre.
On surface, the story seems like familiar picaresque stuff, with a male and female couple of poor Romanians (Blighty and Gina) trying to make their way across Poland in search of who knows what — maybe a joy ride or a cheap holiday. The encounter a series of people on the road who not only won’t help them but who try to unload them, either onto the cops, out in the dark forest, or to their own devices.
Ironies start abounding. Blighty (played over-the-top and with gleeful zeal by Bobby Round) is actually a well-known Polish TV actor. Gina (played understatedly and with razor-sharp skill by Jovana Bukvic) is a single — and perhaps unwed — mother. They are merely pretending to be poor after going to a snooty poverty-themed party where they were to dress down in fun of the lowly.
Turns out they get outrageously drunk and drugged and carry their middle-crust attitude and lower-class persona into the street and on the road where they are taken for what they seem to be — down-and-outers.
They alternately threaten, cajole and plead with the people they encounter as they are coming out of their chemical stupors (they realize they don’t recall meeting one another) and do all they can to let their true selves show through, thinking that will get them the help they so desperately need. Blighty needs to get to his TV studio and Gina to pick up the son she left standing at his day school.
It’s the baring of who they are that’s the unsettling part of watching CPPSR. Blighty and Gina go at each other, tearing down facades they have created.
I like my theatrical symbols big, and this show provides. As they reach bottom, the world dumps on them — dramatically depicted as the support cast empties trashcans on them as they sleep.
At one point Blighty starts taking off his clothes, which I usually see as letting the real person show through. Gina has only enough rope (really) to hang herself. The comedy is deeply dark in this play.
Director and NWPL co-founder James Slowiak has assembled a hard-working and extremely talented group of actors. The leads are amazing, but so too are the supportive players (Avery McCullough, India Burton, Kim Woodworth and Chris Hariasz).
For a set Indra Blatch-Geib cleverly chose plastic curtains to surround the stage and define the different spaces — like the TV room of the character Geezer. We see him veiled as it were throughout the main scenes switching on and off his TV set as he watches Blighty as the TV character Father Ted.
“A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians” at Balch Street Theatre, 220 S. Balch St, Akron; performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. through June 23. Call 330-687-3299 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com for tickets. Tickets are $10 (2-for-1 on Thursday).