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It’s fitting that a new troupe calling itself Catalyst Theater Company should debut with a play that was itself a catalyst. Georg Büchner’s unfinished drama about a man who is slowly driven mad by societal forces, Woyzeck, written in the 1830s but not produced for nearly another 80 years, is generally credited with having begun the movement known as German expressionism, which itself gave birth to mid-20th-century absurdism. A loose collection of scenes—there were no page numbers on the manuscript the 22-year-old playwright left behind when he died of typhus—the show chronicles the disillusionment and ruin of a young man who is trusting, cheerful, and eager to please when the audience first encounters him, in a tent just behind the front line on a battlefield, shaving a pompous captain. “You are exquisitely stupid, Woyzeck,” the captain tells him. “You must be very happy.” And despite his poverty, our hero might just be happy if only he could be sure that his darling Marie (Maggie Glauber) loved him. Alas, life throws him a series of curves—most of them resulting from unjust class or political strictures—and he’s soon reduced to psychosis and murder, and is finally executed. Director Jesse Terrill illustrates Büchner’s running social commentary with a variety of stylized devices. In the opening sequence, Woyzeck (Scott Fortier) uses a spoon for a razor, never actually touching the captain’s face. As the vulnerably manic barber circles his subject, audience attention is drawn to odd details—the ash accumulating and then falling from the captain’s cigarette, in-tandem movements that make the two men appear to be puppet and puppeteer. Other characters appear as projected shadows or are only offstage voices. At one point, a doctor takes Woyzeck’s pulse with a magnifying glass. The imagery is nearly always arresting, and for a while it powers the dialogue into outright comedy, though the verbiage ultimately comes to feel more didactic than amusing. The play is more interesting for its place in history than for anything it actually has to say, but it’s certainly intriguing to have it mounted with so much energy and flair—and to have it sharing a setting at the Clark Street Playhouse with an Ionesco classic that was obviously influenced by Büchner’s innovations and uses them as a springboard for even more eccentric effects. —Bob Mondello