Who among us hasn’t wanted to rip their hair out when dealing with seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape? And who among us hasn’t tried to give their coat a hair cut? Oh, you haven’t tried that? In baaahhh!!!, written by Stanislav Stratiev, Ivan Antonov gets tangled in bureaucracy because he has attempted to give the hair on his sheep skin coat a trim.
Being a satire of bureaucracy, the bureaucratic world should be the more absurd, but in baaahhh!!! this is not the case. We recognize the paper-pushing bureaucrat and the bizarre maze of an office building in which he lives, but it is much harder to understand the world Ivan comes from. And this makes for a crooked play.
The scenes in the bureaucratic offices are easily the most enjoyable. Tom Hedlund plays the Bureaucrat with delicious indifference, and Stefano Genovese and Maria Riboli have directed with a sympathy that seems to make the madness logical. But the play looses steam when we are not entrenched in something so painfully familiar.
Oddly, the more heightened reality exists in the world outside bureaucracy where Ivan takes his coat to a barber and where there is a man eternally stuck in an elevator. Credit goes to Genovese and Riboli for not attempting to make this world make sense: they simply allow it to be. But because it cannot be reconciled with itself (recognizable at times but wholly alien at others) it provides little contrast to the bureaucratic world. Without this contrast, when the “real” world is stranger than the world that is being satirized, the satire is less successful than it is confusing.
In the end, the play finds itself in limbo – somewhere between reason and insanity – and when it embraces this it exists most comfortably. In one of the final scenes, the satisfaction of sticking it to the man is palpable as Ivan, aided by Dermendzjieva (a former bureaucrat played by the superb and captivating Maria Riboli), abandons all reasoned thinking in the face of roundabout bureaucratic logic.
baaahhh!!! is not flawless, but FringeNYC is not about finding perfection. Though the script could use some shearing, Hedlund and Riboli’s performances are worth seeing, especially when combined with the fistful of laughs this production offers.