The Stage: 'Eldorado,' At Festival
By Mel Gussow
The New York Times
December 4, 1987, Friday, Late City Final Edition
Section C; Page 5, Column 1; Cultural Desk

TWO years ago, with ''Dreamland Burns,'' Squat Theater seemed to be entering a new and fascinating phase. As written and directed by Stephan Balint, this was an imaginative study of the urban lost, as seen through a mixed media screen of theater and film. In '' 'L' Train to Eldorado,'' a new Squat Theater piece in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, Mr. Balint continues some of his stylistic explorations while creating a work that is both imprecise and dramatically commonplace.

In this movie within a play, a young man (Mark Boone Junior), of indeterminate occupation, pursues a Dantesque path through the city, a path followed with far more evocative results by Eszter Balint in the earlier Squat work. As the misunderstood son, husband and lover plunges down to the dumps, he quickly becomes maudlin.

The character is trailed by a ubiquitous movie camera crew. The director and his assistants are, for no apparent reason, stripped to the waist. The program identifies them as agents of the devil, something one would not know from the script. Periodically, the director prompts Mr. Beard as actor, after the man weeps copiously, suggesting, ''I don't believe you,'' a sentiment that theatergoers may share.

While the narrative is courting the sin of pretension, Mr. Balint and his designer, Eva Buchmuller, repeatedly reveal their scenic inventiveness. The play begins with a Squat signature image. Two larger-than-life cut-out figures sit up in their bed and on their blank pasteboard heads are superimposed cinematic faces. The cut-outs are living sculptures, a kind of animated pop art comic strip dwarfing the live actors and, with their otherworldly appearance, becoming emblematic of urban emptiness. Though that cinematic image does not reappear, the scenic design - a panorama of the city as tenement-filled waste land - remains an expectant backdrop.

Eventually the play shifts to film, and Mr. Beard's character is transmogrified into a tree. Appearing live on a refuse-laden back lot, the tree-man is discovered by a young girl and offers her a pair of sneakers, which she refuses. Then, on request, she plants a kiss on the trunk (the tree is not transformed into a frog or a prince). Watching the absurd anthropomorphic writhings, I remembered Bert Lahr's famous woodman's song, ''What do you chop when you chop a tree? Nature's wood!'' With '' 'L' Train to Eldorado,'' the final stop is self-parody.

Urban Emptiness

''L'' TRAIN TO ELDORADO, written and directed by Stephan Balint; music by Peter Scherer and Arto Lindsay; art and stage design, Eva Buchmuller; lighting design, Anne Militello; sound design, Connie Kieltyka; cinematography, Bobby Bukowski; assistant to the director, Eszter Balint; sound, George Leong. The Squat Theater, presented by Brooklyn Academy of Music. At 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene section, Brooklyn.

WITH: Mark Boone Jr. Peter Berg, Eszter Balint, Jehnifer Stein, Susan Williams, Vit Horejs, Rebecca Major, Klara Palotai, Jan Gontarczyk and Mr. Balint

Copyright 1987 The New York Times Company


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