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Café Umbertoen

“Three couples caught up in the turmoil unleashed by the Hartz IV legislation, a package of measures introduced several years ago to reform Germany’s social security system: the unemployed musician Jaro and the failed fashion designer Jule meet at a job centre with a cafeteria. She intends to commit suicide, he possesses a confidence that seems other-worldly. With the help of his enthusiasm and the mute Umberto’s latte macchiato, he tries to drag Jule back into life – and make her part of his own life.
Anton and Paula are not a couple at the beginning, but have linked up by the end of the play: two unemployed graduates who embark on a despairing assault course through a variety of game shows. But their relationship threatens to break up over Anton’s refusal to go head to head with Japan’s most renowned Sumo wrestler. Lukas and Sonia also find themselves in difficulties: he is a geologist without a job, she is a well known television presenter who pays for all Lukas’s needs from her expense account. His rebellion against the economically successful woman becomes distinctly paranoid when Sonia’s voice is sampled by the Federal Employment Agency for the loudspeaker announcements at job centres and starts to ring out as if in mockery over the heads of society’s failed ones.

In his latest play, Moritz Rinke, author of Republik Vineta and Die Optimisten, investigates the fault lines running through our economy, down to their most private and most intimate aspects.”

(Thalia Theater Hamburg)

Responses to the Play:

“In this play, Rinke risks getting very, indeed emphatically, close to his characters. His gaze is not distanced, favouring a cool, sociological bird’s eye perspective, but seeks the close-up shot. He is interested in very personal questions. What effect does a life without socially recognised economic activity have on our psyche, on our social relations, on our ability to love and our attractiveness to others? What chance do we have of withstanding the mental pressures to which we are exposed? How can we fend off our own depression and that of those around us? How do we preserve our dignity? Where do we search for meaning?

These are brave questions, especially because they are intended to identify subjective survival techniques and reveal our own capacity for resistance as the germ of political consciousness. Furthermore, they are not easy to answer in view of the brutal, overbearing power of the economic policies sanctioned by the state. So Rinke’s heroes of unemployment blunder into various traps and try to pull themselves out of the gutter by their own bootlaces, only to get themselves into another fine mess a little later on. They are Chaplinesque clowns. The irony and lightness with which Rinke depicts their flights of fancy and pratfalls never betrays their pain and their yearning, but obviates kitsch and any conventional drama of compassion.”

(Rita Thiele, Jahrbuch Theater Heute 2005)

“Moritz Rinke’s […] play Café Umberto may be a nimble comedy, but one written with bitter wit and a not particularly comforting happy ending. It deals with the desperate lack of recognition suffered by people who have become unemployed in a society where we still close our eyes to the reality that human dignity and meaningfully lived lives no longer require full employment to be the norm, where it is necessary to ask how the circulation of money, which ensures all citizens their fundamental rights, can be secured and regulated in future.

With a light touch and yet not without the seriousness appropriate to the theme, Rinke pleads for conditions that enable the unemployed to enjoy happiness; he gives us loosely connected parallel plots, telling three love stories about unemployment. If none of them have happy endings, this is precisely because the materialistic values to which we continue to subscribe and the ways a work-based society devalues other social goods impose far too great a burden on the unemployed. We are all still relying on there being a future for a welfare state born of respectable social democratic thinking. And we all believe it is possible to avoid the radical decoupling of the citizen from the fetish of work. But any attempts to flee into artificial paradises that defy the global economisation of everything we do are merely symptomatic of the crisis we face.”

(Klaus Völker, Mülheim Theatertage, 2006)

Technical Details:


25 September 2005, Schauspielhaus Düsseldorf

Director Burkhard Kosminski
Cast 3 female, 7 male
Rights Rowohlt Theater Verlag
Hamburger Str.17
21465 Reinbek
Tel. 040/ 72 72 270, Fax 040/ 72 72 276
Translations Theatre Library


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