Elfriede Jelinek

Das Werk (i.e., "The Works")en

This play, the last part of Jelinek's Alps trilogy, is concerned with the human mania for technological progress, symbolized to the ultimate degree by the history of the storage power station at Kaprun.
This part of Austria became tragically celebrated in November 2000 when 155 passengers burned to death in the cable railway there, which was the central theme of "In den Alpen". It is also the setting for another dark chapter in Austrian history where men sought to outdo nature and thereby became its victims, or they sacrificed other people. The text of the earlier play revolved around ski-tourism (so hated by Jelinek) and the destruction of nature as presented by the individual victims of catastrophe. In "The Works" the technologically impressive construction of one of the world's mightiest storage power stations is called in question by the large number of human beings who lost their lives during its building. The historical background also constitutes the basic framework into which Jelinek places her "characters": the heroic start of construction in the twenties, continuation by the Nazis with Göring using forced labour and prisoners of war, the official death toll of 160 and a much greater unacknowledged number, and finally suppression of historical facts when the works was completed in 1955 and made into a myth. Here once again, as in "In den Alpen", a text without action is distributed between speakers without any specific identity but named after two well-known Alpine cliché characters, "Heidi" and "Geissenpeter" - with the character of "the author" as Jelinek's alter ego and mouthpiece as perhaps an exception. Jelinek takes as her theme the coming to grief of a "worker" - as she had previously in "Sportstück" with a sportsman's failure to perfect his nature by going to extremes. However the worker is not merely a victim of nature; he is primarily the victim of people who make use of him in their technological megalomania.

Responses to the Play

" ... Elfriede Jelinek is fascinated and nauseated by technological mania, and writes a work, her "Werk", commissioned by the Burgtheater, which is full of turbines, cranes, huge amounts of water, and dam walls. Kaprun is her theme, her metaphor for belief in progress, its utility and costs for the army of workers who become its victims, her metaphor for modern civilization ... This construction obeys the dictates of civilization and nevertheless documents the immoderately promethean creative powers of people who scarcely ever think about negative aspects and yet, like the Twin Towers, from time to time become the object of an equally extreme attack by other human beings".
(Joachim Lux, Jahrbuch Theater heute, 2002)

"As has always been the case in Elfriede Jelinek's theatre pieces in recent years there is no dramatic structure: no trace of action, psychology, or dialogue. Only angry sentences, corny jokes, and crypto-citations; only hatred of the ugly and scorn for the supposedly, the violated, noble. The author obsessively adheres to her bodily leitmotifs: Sport is murder, and Austria's present-day existence rests or sleeps on the corpses of a suppressed past. She eloquently attacks the exploitation of human beings - and through them of nature .... 'Das Werk' is a sarcastic requiem, literally cutting into the flesh: verbal music without the blessing of consolation but full of sadness and indignation and bitter wit. This composer of letters incorporates verses from Schubert's "Die schöne Müllerin" cycle into the crudest context with great virtuosity. Poetry thus becomes a foreshadowing of misfortune, and the commercial noise of tittle-tattle throttles the sounds of Romanticism. Elfriede Jelinek is and remains Austria's poetic Erinnye, defining herself as a "baroque avenging angel".
(Ulrich Weinzierl in "Die Welt", 14.4.2003)

Technical Details

Premiere 11.4.2003, Vienna's Burgtheater (Akademietheater)
Director Nicolas Stemann
Cast Variable number. Basic set
Rights Rowohlt Theater Verlag
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21465 Reinbek
Postfach 1349
21453 Reinbek
Tel:+49 40 7272270, Fax:+49 40 7272276 theater@rowohlt.de
Translations Theatre Library