Thursday, October 6, 2016

Berlin Theater

Germany's capital has a flourishing theater scene. Long before I travelled to Berlin for a family celebration in September I looked through the offerings on the Internet and choose two plays on two consecutive evenings: Die Räuber (The Robbers) by Friedrich Schiller at the Brecht Theater and Die Mutter (The Mother) by Bertold Brecht, well not at the Schiller Theater* but at the Schaubühne.
*Berlin's Schiller Theater closed in 1993 due to financial problems.

Red Baron loves the theater and had his fill when living in Munich as a student and young scientist. During my time at CERN I really missed the cool German acting compared to the theatrical performance of French actors. Therefore I took any opportunity to go to the theater when in Austria (Vienna's Burgtheater!) or in Germany. However, as time went by I saw original classical texts modified, in later years plays were even rewritten so that eventually the so-called Regietheater (director's theater) started to piss me off.

This is one reason that my enthusiasm for the theater has somewhat declined. However last year I saw a remarkable performance of Les mains sales (Dirty hands) by Jean-Paul Sartre at Berlin's Deutsches Theater so I decided to give Berlin's theaters another try during my recent visit.

On my way to the theater walking along Schiffbauerdamm on a lazy sunny late afternoon

The Bert Brecht Theater at Schiffbauerdamm.
Note the guy at the entrance selling pretzels.

The master cast in bronze
The Robbers was the first theater play young Friedrich Schiller wrote in his Sturm und Drang period. At that time Die Räuber was both a scandal and a success with the word Freiheit (liberty) being uttered and shouted throughout the play. Indeed, the story of the fight between the two brothers for their father's heritage and for the same girl leaves all liberties to stage directors.

Three years ago Red Baron had seen a performance of The Robbers at Freiburg's theater. The scenery had been reduced to an inclined plane that in the course of the drama became slippery with body fluids. The climax near the end concerned Amalia, the subject of all desire. She was standing at the top of the inclined plane looking down on to the two brothers Karl and Franz trying hard but in vain to climb the wet surface. To spur their efforts Amalia spontaneously lifted her robe and exposed her private parts.

Red Baron happened to be in a performance with many school kids watching Schiller's masterpiece possibly as an assignment who suddenly discharged their frustrations in a pubertal howling. This caused the actor who was playing Karl to come to the front of the stage and rebuke those adolescents seriously. There was a perfect silence on our way out.

When in Berlin one of my questions was: Can the director of Die Räuber at the Brecht Theater top the Freiburg performance? Body fluids again were an important ingredient copiously sprayed on a flat stage. As a precaution against any spill the first row of seats had been left empty. Nevertheless Red Baron sitting in third row was hit although just by a crumpled up paper that landed on my lap. It was Karl's famous letter that Franz had falsified. In the play Franz reads it aloud to his father blackening his brother.

My souvenir
Generally the action on stage was more animated and brutal than at Freiburg when, e.g., the gang of robbers used their six-shooters.

Wind machines and chaos ©Bert Brecht Theater
Near the end Amalia's performance in Freiburg was topped with Franz die Kanaille (the scoundrel) walking up to the front of the stage stark naked. Well, he did not turn me on.

The following evening I saw Brecht's play Die Mutter.The action is located in Czarist Russia in the years 1905 to 1917 where social tensions give rise to communist ideas. Mother Pelagea Vlassova is against her son's involvement in protest activities but as time goes by Pelagea not only supports Pavel's underground activities against the czarist oppression of the working class but becomes the leading figure in the fight for the workers' rights.

I noticed that in this play Brecht's famous Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect) was somewhat lacking. This absence however posed no problem for the stage director.

Suddenly the colored (!) actor and bass guitar player in Czarist Russia (in the picture on the right) started reciting a strange text. Fortunately Mother Pelagea explained the mystery to me and the mostly young audience: Our colored friend had simply been carried away by his desire to become a serious actor in playing the Prince of Homburg. Although I had seen Heinrich von Kleist's Prinz von Homburg at Berlin's Maxim Gorki Theater in 2011 I had not recognized the unexpected words.

Looking at today's social situation: Is Brecht's key phrase in Die Mutter still valid? Already the Greek knew πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) "everything flows".

* Things won't remain as they are ©Schaubühne
Red Baron enjoyed both evenings.

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