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The Frightening, Exhilarating, Arousing World of Confusions

The Frightening, Exhilarating, Arousing World of Confusions

Photo by Darko Vaupotić

Confusions may be the most appropriately titled performance piece ever written. And that’s part of what makes it incredible. 

Born as a “radical theater experiment” in the halls of the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb, the play, which continues through Sept. 21 at the Queer New York International Arts Festival, is based on Robert Musil’s 1906 expressionist novel The Confusions of Young Törless. Rather than take a traditional narrative approach to adapting Musil’s novel—as Volker Schlöndorff did in his 1966 filmic adaptation—Croatian director Branko Brezovec forgoes most narrative conventions and takes a thematic approach to Musil’s tale of three boys’ sadistic and homoerotic torture of their military boarding school classmate. 

Performed in Croatian with English subtitles that are projected rapid-fire at opposite sides of the stage, Confusions disorients you until you jettison your preconceived notions of narrative theater. That’s when the play starts to hit you on a visceral level. As I let it all wash over me, I was simultaneously frightened, aroused, repulsed, angry, ashamed, prurient, and exhilarated. To hold two, maybe three, emotions in suspension is common—to feel seven and have no way to process them is something totally new. Frenetic to the point of frenzied, the acting, narrative (which veered into Wagner’s Siegfried in the final act), even the mise en scène, all contribute to Confusions’ haymaker-like emotional punch. 

If you’ve really engaged with Confusions, when you leave the theater you’ll be emotionally drained, a little shaken, and, well, confused. Will understand what you saw? Probably not. Will you get a firm grasp on the plot of The Confusions of Young Törless. No. Will you have experienced the work’s themes on an emotional level. Definitely. 

Confusions isn’t for the faint of heart and, if experimental theater isn’t your thing, it probably won’t change your mind about it. Just be prepared to be pushed into new, uncomfortable, and exhilarating territory.

September 17-21, Abrons Arts Center

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