Family, History and the Big Picture – New German Plays of 2011/2012

Martin Heckmann “Vater, Mutter, Geisterbahn” (i.e., Father, Mother, Rollercoaster), Staatsschauspiel Dresden; © David BaltzerTrends in new German plays and premieres of the 2011/2012 season.

There are two prizes awarded annually at Mülheim after the viewing of the seven plays of the year selected by a five-member jury: in addition to the renowned Mülheimer Dramatist Prize, on which the jury of critics, writers and dramaturges give their verdict in public debate on the evening of the last performance, there is the Audience Award. And jury and audience are practically never of the same opinion. This was also so in 2012, and the difference between professional and swarm intelligence this year was particularly pregnant.

Big and small

Peter Handkes “Immer noch Sturm” (i.e., Forever Storm), Thalia Theater Hamburg; © Armin SmailovicThe jury plumped for Peter Handke’s Immer noch Sturm (i.e., Forever Storm) and so for the most famous author, the longest text, the longest performance – and the most personal subject. Handke’s drama about the guerrilla resistance of the Carinthian Slovenes grapples with his own history. The Handke-I encounters on the Jaunfeld in Carinthia the ghost dance of his family through the decades stretching from 1936 into the 1950s: grandparents, mother, aunt and uncle, who were deeply involved in the armed resistance to the Nazi occupation. Eloquently and with tender pathos, the poet evokes a lost world. Dimiter Gotscheff allowed himself five hours at the Thalia Theater to unfold this family saga.

Philipp Löhles “Das Ding” (i.e., The Thing), Schauspielhaus Hamburg; © Kerstin SchomburgBy contrast, the director Jan Philipp Gloger took a mere 100 minutes at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus to present the big picture and its comic, tragic entanglements depicted in Philipp Löhle’s globalization farce Das Ding (i.e., The Thing). Löhle follows the path of a talking cotton flock through the flow of goods from Africa to China to Germany and back again to Africa. He gives a very close look at the people who come into contact with the cotton thing. This clever, warm-hearted and light-handed construction won the hearts of the Mülheim audience and the Award that is theirs to confer.

Microcosm family

Anne Lepper “Käthe Hermann”, Stadttheater Bielefeld; © Philipp OttendörferMuch of the dramatic production of the 2011/12 season moved in this spread between nuclear family and the attempt to get the big picture. The themes that dominated the last season – the euro crisis, the work world – are perhaps too inscrutable and have been too often treated. The central theme this year was positioning in the community (and whether there can still be a community at all). In Martin Heckmanns’s small family drama Vater, Mutter, Geisterbahn (i.e., Father, Mother, Rollercoaster) the family has become a company and the child a project hopelessly overloaded with expectations. Heckmanns packs the resultant educational debacle in precise casual dialogue. Father, mother and child are also the essential personnel of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s funereal poem Das fliegende Kind (i.e., The Flying Child), a shimmering, deep black language game about guilt and accident in which a father runs over his own child. The father has long been driven out of Anne Lepper’s three person play Käthe Hermann . Remaining are only the mother, Käthe, who has failed to make good as a dancer but, undeterred, continues to dream her dream at the home ballet barre, and her grown-up children, trained to be the audience. Lepper’s surreal nightmare about an unlived life and the spirit of resistance that will stop at nothing is a great proof of her talent. And her second play, the Magic Mountain-like study of overweight children Seymour oder Ich bin nur aus Versehen hier (i.e., Seymour, or I’m Here Only By Accident), about the social pressure to normalization, also almost made it to Mülheim.

Roland Schimmelpfennigs “Das fliegende Kind” (i.e., The Flying Child), guest performance of the Akademietheater Vienna at the Autorentheatertage 2012, Deutsches  Theater Berlin; © Reinhard Werner

The individual and the world

Anne Lepper was among the Mülheim seven for the first time, as was Claudia Grehn who, together with Darja Stocker, developed the interview collage Reicht es nicht zu sagen ich will leben (i.e., Isn’t It Enough To Say I Want to Live), a discourse panoptican of reasons for anger running across the generations with no less than 24 roles, which evolved from interviews with citizens of Weimar and Leipzig about their longing to become socially active – and their perplexity in the age of the collective shrug about how and for what this would be possible.

René Pollesch “Kill your Darlings – Streets of Berladelphia”, Volksbühne Berlin; © Thomas AurinExactly this is the result of the dramatic analyses that would look beyond the coffee table into the big picture: the world is damned difficult place to grasp, and the individual is pretty much alone in it. That of all people the discourse specialist and love sceptic René Pollesch should have formulated most warmly the desire for belonging in his Kill your Darlings – Streets of Berladelphia was the surprise of the season: his soloist Fabian Hinrichs threw himself into the arms of a 15-member group of gymnasts in search of the collective which, under capitalism, is called the “network” and can never suffice for what we used to call devotion.

Naturally, the Mülheim selection is not really adequate to serving as a mirror of the whole season. Seven of far more than 100 read or viewed plays is only a excerpt. Especially in a season as rich as 2011/12, which gave us new plays by Anja Hilling (Der Garten; i.e., The Garden), Theresia Walser (Eine Stille für Frau Schirakesch; i.e., A Silence for Mrs. Schirakesch), Lukas Bärfuss (20.000 Seiten; 20,000 Pages), Feridun Zaimoglu (Alpsegen; i.e., Alpine Blessing), Marius von Mayenburg (Märtyrer; i.e., Martyrs), Kathrin Röggla (Nicht hier oder Die Kunst zurückzukehren; i.e., Not Here, or the Art of Returning; Kinderkriegen; i.e., Having Children) and Oliver Kluck (Leben und Erben, Living and Inheriting; Die Froschfotzenlederfabrik; i.e., Frogc**t Leather Factory). But at Mülheim there are only two winners.

Barbara Burckhardt
The author is a theater critic and editor at Theater heute. From 2005 to 2007 she was a member of jury of the Berlin Theater Meeting, and since 2010 she has been a member of the jury of the Mülheim Theater Festival.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
September 2012

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