Armin Petras / Thomas Lawinky

Mala Zementbaum

Long after the collapse of the GDR, the unemployed Homer, who was once an unofficial collaborator* with the Ministry of State Security ("Stasi"), and Kevin, his former handler and now an employee with a personal protection agency, meet in a dilapidated hotel room for an experiment intended to investigate totalitarian power structures.
A woman who joins them (the beauty queen of an East European country in 2000) is overcome and tied up by Kevin, who feels she is suspicious. Another man who enters the room is beaten up by Kevin and held prisoner as well. In the end, this supposed victim also turns out to be an employee of the same company and the real mastermind behind the experiment in which Kevin and Homer confront each other. Homer is the alter ego of the actor Thomas Lawinky, whose biography Armin Petras has used as the material for his play, which is based on interviews with Lawinky. As an adolescent, Lawinky was put in detention after a failed attempt to flee the then GDR and badly mistreated in prison. Following a period of fruitless rebellion, he apparently began to fit into the system and joined the National People's Army, where he was recruited as an unofficial collaborator by the Stasi, represented in the play by the former agent handler Kevin. Lawinky worked as an informer for a year under the cover name "Beckett".

Following the fall of Communism, he did not tell anyone about this part of his past until, after being sacked from Schauspiel Frankfurt in the wake of the "spiral bound notebook affair",** he made a public confession. In the play, the author Petras and the actor Thomas Lawinky reconstruct the old, but still functioning, power structures that finally bring about Homer's mental subjection by Kevin. At the end, we are confronted with the question of whether the truth can be measured against personal experience or historical facts: the beauty queen eventually raped by Kevin tells the story of a Jewish woman, Mala Zementbaum, who escaped from Auschwitz concentration camp with her friend Edek Galinski, but was then separated from him as a result of the unintended betrayal of a German farmer's wife, presumably the narrator's grandmother. Mala only saw Edek again 45 years later, when she met him briefly and was able to laugh one last time before she died. (The historical record suggests that the two were in fact caught by the Nazis immediately after their escape and executed in 1944.) Fiction, our own wishful thinking and reality blend, showing how difficult it is to come to terms with guilt and responsibility or to clearly assign roles and say who was the victim and who the perpetrator in the context of the paranoid thought patterns instilled by totalitarian regimes.

*Unofficial collaborator: an undercover agent who worked for the Ministry of State Security without being formally employed by it.
**"Spiral bound notebook affair": During a performance of Ionesco's The Killing Game at the Schauspiel Frankfurt, Thomas Lawinky approached the FAZ critic Gerhard Stadelmaier and grabbed the spiral bound notebook in which Stadelmaier was making notes. In response, Stadelmaier left the auditorium, still being insulted by Lawinky as he walked out. Shortly afterwards, Lawinky was released from his contract in Frankfurt. He eventually made a public admission of his past as an unofficial collaborator with the Stasi in the former GDR. Since the 2006/2007 season, Lawinky has been at the Maxim Gorki Theater, where Armin Petras is artistic director. In the first production of Mala Zementbaum, he played Kevin, the antagonist to his own alter ego, Homer.

Responses to the Play:

"Mala Zementbaum, written (up) by Armin Petras and based on fragments of the incident-strewn eastern biography of the actor Thomas Lawinky, is a biodrama that uncovers layers of repression, but not the thing actually being repressed, that seeks to inform and get to grips with the past, although not with the aim of unambiguously assigning guilt, but with the discordant effect that one allows oneself to be overwhelmed once again by the swirl of contradictory motifs, compulsions and conjectures." (Silvia Stammen, Mülheim Theatertage 2007)

"Can he (Lawinky, ed.) really claim to have been subjugated by a monstrous system - in which, after all, he too lived as a conformist? Armin Petras wrote Mala Zementbaum after intensive discussions with Lawinky. His own GDR biography until he left in the 1980s has certainly been drawn on in the play as well. […]
Petras does not make it easy for Lawinky. The text skilfully evokes the paranoia into which many young people in the GDR had settled, exposing the Lawinkys of those years as "victim-perpetrators, perpetrator-victims" […]. Petras raises questions about activity and passivity. About guilt and participation. The play grinds on inexorably until the audience themselves no longer really know what to think: Is an act committed under duress pardonable? What decision would I have taken myself? Would I have resisted? If not - would I talk about it today?"
(Anja Meier, taz, 12 February 2007)

Technical Data

Premiere 9 February 2007, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
Director Milan Peschel
Cast 1 female, 3 male
Rights Drei Masken Verlag GmbH
Guido Huller, Mozartstr. 18
80336 Munich
Tel.: +49 89 54456909
Fax: +49 89 53819952
Translations Theatre Library