The characters in Georg Buchner’s play Woyzeck are fueled by pride, haunted by the past, overcome with testosterone and ultimately crippled by their own pathos. So it makes perfect sense that Nick Cave composed new songs for a production of the play first developed by the Reykjavik City Theater and imported to the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of their Next Wave series. The songs (co-written with Dirty Three founder and sometimes Bad Seed Warren Ellis) sound like they could have been outtakes from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!: dark, churning rock tunes sometimes broken up by tender ballads and tongue-in-cheek goofs, highlighted by the entrance of a character called the Drum Major, who sings his own theme song while hanging from a trapeze as masculinity oozes from his pores.
The Drum Major’s acrobatic act is one of the many visual accomplishments of the show. The centerpiece of the set is a giant water tank where the actors swim, dance and contort themselves in an incredibly physically demanding ninety minutes. The play follows the title character as he is insulted by his boss, humiliated by military tests and cuckolded by his wife. It’s an amazing play even without the songs, but Cave’s tunes end up playing an integral part in the narrative, and he channels late 19th century German sturm und drang into his muscular blues with ease.