Girlish, perilous, sexy and bleak, Minor Theater’s “Marie It’s Time,” at Here, resurrects a marginal character from an influential work of modern drama. Then it kills her again. In this three-actor play, the playwright Julia Jarcho and the director Ásta Bennie Hostetter initiate a dialogue with Georg Büchner’s “Woyzeck,” an expressionist take on true crime left unfinished at the time of Büchner’s early death.
“Woyzeck,” inspired by an early 19th-century scandal, centers on a sometime soldier who murders Marie, his common-law wife and the mother of his child, after she sleeps with a drum major. Woyzeck’s Marie isn’t granted much interiority in Büchner’s text, which makes “Marie It’s Time” a kind of reclamation, homage and clapback, even if Marie doesn’t survive for long here either.
Jarcho splits Marie’s identity between two actors. Jarcho is one of them. Jennifer Seastone, a Minor Theater regular, is the other. Seastone plays a character named Marie — a breathy, lipsticked femme who knows the fatality is coming. Jarcho is Mag, a harassed mom in jeans and a sloppy sweater, introduced while cradling a screaming baby. (Each also takes turns playing Frank, the baby’s volatile father.) The women’s eyes are caught by Major (Kedian Keohan), a traveling musician in skinny jeans with a louche repertory of songs that describe and promise violence. Violence may be what Marie and Mag want. Certainly, it is what they expect. (Jarcho is also an academic, and her new book project explores theater and masochism. These ideas clearly absorb her.)
As a playwright, Jarcho (“Pathetic,” “Grimly Handsome”) specializes in the weirdness and danger throbbing just below the surface of ordinary life, like a forehead vein that won’t stop pulsing. This creates an odd tangle of heightened emotions and ultranormal textures. Here, the style is broadly presentational, with some dialogue spoken into stand microphones and other lines rendered without amplification. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s a mind game. Or maybe it’s all mind games?
Mag and Marie’s home, represented by an alphabet rug and a pile of laundry baskets, doubles, without adjustments, as a nightspot, a barbershop, a field. (The set is by Meredith Ries.) Hostetter doesn’t make the most of the confined downstairs space at Here. Despite the collection of doors and apertures in the set, the actors’ bodies inhabit it in limited ways. Still Ebony Burton’s lighting, which suggests a club in the weary, early morning moments before the work lights come on, and Ben Williams and Elliot Yokum’s ominous sound design provide greater ambience.
Running just over an hour, “Marie It’s Time” is an intentionally narrow work and a recursive one, an echo chamber in which love and harm reverberate. It explores men’s violence against women, but as there aren’t any cisgender men onstage (Keohan is a trans actor), it does so in a way that feels both dangerous and appropriately safe, provocative without being exploitative. It returns agency to Marie, particularly when Seastone, an actress of great and strange charisma, steps up to the microphone. Then again, agency only goes so far. Marie still dies. She always dies.
Jarcho and Hostetter create a world in which violence against women exerts a constant pressure — a grim attitude, but not one that invites a lot of argument. In a bitter coincidence, one of Major’s songs, “Keys in My Hand,” somehow reframed a joke I made to a friend a couple of weeks ago: that I never feel more feminine than when I’m walking home at night, keys laced through my fingers. Which is to say that “Marie It’s Time” — small and finely wrought — is a jewel box of a play. And that you may not want to reach your hand inside.
Marie It’s Time
Through Oct. 1 at HERE, Manhattan; here.org. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.