Sojourn Theatre at Marshall High School, 3905 SE 91st, (971) 544-0464, Wed-Sat 8 pm, through March 19, $5-25
C ontinuing where he left off with the acclaimed Seven Great Loves, Sojourn Theatre mastermind Michael Rohd presents Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit, another "theatrical journey" wherein the audience follows the action through the halls of an alternative venue (here, Marshall High School), stopping at various points to witness each new installment. Durrenmatt's greatest work presents the aging, wealthy socialite Claire Zachanassian (Gretchen Corbett), who returns to the impoverished town that spawned her with $100 million in hand. But to get the money, the town must provide her with one very simple item: the dead body of local beloved shopkeeper Anton Schill (Jono Eiland), who, years ago, publicly ostracized Claire, driving her out of her home. A feverish, hilarious, and terrifying ethical whirlwind ensues.
Rohd and the Sojourn company focus on interpretative ensemble work, gutting the playwright's darkly witty banter and surreal physical details in favor of a somber visual/verbal dance that moves, through eerily lit corridors. In one room, the audience sits in on a town meeting, watching the characters discuss their situation in the hallucinatory reflection of a massive. Another segment, where Schill tries to escape the town by train, begins at the end of one of the school's long hallways, a fantastic visual effect that recalls a nightmarish subway tunnel.
Such technical innovations, paired with Rohd's highly original viewing format, have inspired legions of rabid Sojourn fans in past productions. But while The Visit never bores, its blatant disregard of its source material weighs heavily. Dialogue frequently arrives via monotonous prerecorded voiceovers, and in one baffling sequence, in rhythmic fusions of showtunes and rap. It's as if Rohd is pointedly dismissing Durrenmatt's language, wringing it of humor and vibrancy to prove some mysterious point. There is much to admire in this strange, meditative production, but without the absurd sense of levity that courses through The Visit's dark tale, it ultimately becomes something Durrenmatt spent his life in letters avoiding: Self-important.