‘Oxygen’ at Taffety Punk Theatre Company by Erica Laxson

Taffety Punk Theatre Company’s Oxygen, written by Ivan Vyrpaev, is a self- proclaimed post apocalyptic mix tape but it’s so much more. Directors Lise Bruneau and Chris Curtis tackled the challenge of creating ten completely unique, but wondrously intertwined chapters of stories that could have been our own, yet seem so far from reality. Set in a gritty Russian city that time forgot, Oxygen will captivate the story lover in you as its handcrafted music by DC locals highlights the highs and lows of this emotional thrill ride.

Mark Krawczyk and Esther Williamson. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Mark Krawczyk and Esther Williamson. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

We are pulled through each of the ten vignettes to connect the scattered pieces of Him (Mark Krawczyk) and Her (Esther Williamson) and their literal and existential search for oxygen. Krawczyk easily slips from intimidating and intense to lost and pitiable while Williamson transforms herself into every kind of woman imaginable with the subtlest of movements. Curtis and Bruneau molded their actors’ movements around Peter Adams’ minimalist set and the result is explosive tension between Williamson and Krawczyk.

Our friendly DJ (Dan Crane) casually steers us through each of the Ten Commandments and introduces each DC artist acting as a soundtrack for the ten scenes. Along with the script’s most controversial moments, Oxygen’s entire pulse was set to the beat of original music by DC based The Caribbean, E. D. Sedgwick, Electric Blakentland, The Inexhaustible Chalice, and Jupiter Rex.

The pulsing Eastern European inspired music pushed the emotional boundaries further and further, and drew the audience into a trance like state, unable to look away. At times I was tempted to zone out and enjoy the music that wasn’t quite loud enough, but Taffety Punk solved this problem by making digital LP’s available of each track. I was able to concentrate on the show, and later listen to each song while I relived the raw emotions from the stage.

Dan Crane and Esther Williamson. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Dan Crane and Esther Williamson. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The interwoven Russian from Vyrpaev’s original wasn’t as hard to understand as you’d expect, and it really enhanced the authenticity of Him and Her’s plight. Translator Sasha Dugdale uses imagery and storytelling to give us the context clues necessary to connect important words and concepts. The shows name, Oxygen, becomes a repetitive theme that resonates more and more with your vision of the world the deeper you get into the show.

Without the subtle, but perfect lighting design by Brittany Diliberto, I’m sure much of the emotional nuisance would have been lost. Costume Designer Scott Hammar captures the Russian feeling in fabric and helped the actors evolve with subtle changes in their camouflage.

4.5 stars for a thought-provoking journey through a uniquely crafted vivisection of contemporary Russia and conflicting human emotions wrapped within the trance-like tunes of DC Area musicians.

Oxygen is a can’t miss production for music fans, lovers of unique concept shows, and anyone with a connection to Motherland Russia.

Running Time: One hour and ten minutes, with no intermission.

Oxygen plays through April 26, 2013 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 355-9441, or purchase them  online.


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