Edinburgh Fringe 2014
In the Spring of 1944 seven Russian soldiers have been captured by the Germans in Nazi occupied Poland and imprisoned in an empty basement of a monastery.
The description in the Edfringe catalog for this show includes this: “Spring 1944 – seven Soviet soldiers have been captured by the Nazis, stripped naked and abandoned in the locked empty cellar of a monastery in southern Poland. In order to survive, the men resort to murder and cannibalism. How do they reconcile rank, faith and dignity? …by David Ian Lee and directed by Joao de Sousa is…based on true events.” This is not quite true. The Playwright’s Note in the program specifies, “…this play is ultimately an invention, its denizens, my creations.” In any case, the playwright has created a fluid, scary, poetic world filled with death and destruction.
The Curing Room is a powerful, visceral piece of theatre. As advertised, the cast plays the entire show completely naked. Their soldier characters have been stripped of all designation of rank, status or modesty. Even without any traditional human indicators they firmly establish a hierarchy based on rank, skills and intelligence, or lack of any of those. The scenes were each a portion of a day of the captivity. Some gruesome props and the liberal use of blood deliver the visual progression. Each scene is more brutal and fascinatingly horrible than the one before.
The lighting design was beautiful. The setting is supposed to be a dark underground place. Somehow light bounces around creating gorgeous stage pictures that create elegant images as if of a dramatic painting. The scenes are divided by black outs during which a recorded voice and atmospheric sound effects announce the numbers of days of the captivity. The rest of the soundscape is the very masculine voices of the characters and the occasional sound effects of the war around them.
The performances are energetic, nuanced and highly developed. Even with no clothing as visual clues, we could clearly tell who was who and what they brought to the situation. We learned their ranks, achievements and occasionally their inner most secrets.
As brave as the cast is in being willing to perform without any clothes, the brilliant script gave them unending opportunities to really scare me into thinking they were as desperate as the situation called for. I found myself totally intrigued by this show. Often the scenes ended before I was ready for them to. Many of them left me wanting more. Sometimes the gruesome action was difficult to watch. Several times I found myself flinching and covering my eyes because I was not willing to partake in the horrific spectacle of men devouring each other in the act of cannibalism.