Review: Notes from Underground, La Jolla Playhouse September 2010

Descent into badness

Bill Camp is vile.

A socially maladjusted and embittered creature, he turns his back on the society that spurned him. He stands at the end of a career he never wanted anyway, deploring the wreckage of his frustrated and impotent life. He prowls the stage, vitriolic and wracked with shame and anger, hating yet also desperately seeking connection with the people he considers beneath him. His cowardly cruelty knows no bounds, a point that’s driven home when he finally rapes the prostitute who has borne the brunt of his scorn and abuse.

Bill Camp; as The Man, is wretched. And you could be too, if you let slip that thin mantle of civility and social nicety.

Notes from Underground is not an easy play to witness. Robert Woodruff’s stage adaptation of the translation of Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella of the same name is a dark portrayal of an existential hell. During the September 24 showing at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, members of the audience walked out, visibly shell shocked by the graphic and brutal rape scene.

Notes from Underground is going to divide audiences and offend scores of people. Others will struggle with the dense dialogue which is very true to Dostoevsky’s text. Some may find the multimedia aspect of the staging challenging, especially how much of the play centers around The Man ranting into a web camera and the projection of his concentrated fury even bigger than life size.

Actor and Director Bill Camp’s unflinching portrayal of The Man does complete justice to the intentions of the text, and he is admirably supported by Merritt Janson and Michaël Attias. The set design, lighting, sound and projection are intelligent and wholly integral to the success of the piece.

It’s not a production for those looking to be easily entertained, comforted or pandered to. Emotionally, it’s like a punch in the guts. Go see it if you want to be reminded what theater can be; risky, profound, thought provoking, controversial and above all; very, very real.

Tickets for Notes From Underground are $31 – $66 and are available at the La Jolla Playhouse box office, (858) 550 1010 or online at, September 17 – October 17 2010.

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