saw a production of woyzeck in karlsruhe last night—having the weekend off and nothing to do i thought i would go and visit a friend i worked with in bad hersfeld over the summer, but it turned out she was in berlin. however, woyzeck was playing there, and it's a piece i've been working on since christmas basically, researching, translating, casting in august, and mounting it next spring. it's hardly ever performed in canada (though there will be a french version from montreal at the NAC in january), but it's one of the most important texts in german speaking theatre. i saw a wicked production at the gorki theater in june and there's a wiederaufnahme of a production from last year here in a few weeks.
robert wilson and tom waits collaborated some years ago on a version of the fragmentary texts with waits' music. the music is actually pretty rad and is out on a cd called blood money. wilson directed the premiere but it's now being performed all over the place, and doesn't tend to garner great reviews when wilson doesn't direct it.
yesterday's production was totally boring. the thing about the play that i love so much is that there is this central plot of a guy who finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him and kills her. pretty typical, simple jealousy murder. but büchner manages to expand it into the basic problem of being human. it's not dissimilar to hamlet in some of the ideas discussed—right down to the 'what a piece of work is man [...] and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust' speech getting mirrored in a crazy little speech from a deranged barber 'what is the mensch? bones! dust, sand, dirt. what is nature? dust, sand, dirt. but stupid mensch, stupid mensch.' there are these crazy little scenes that pop out of nowhere with often totally unconnected characters that seem like totally simple peasants who philosophize in this beautiful imagery about what mankind (menschheit) is. there's a certain disorder to it—well obviously, büchner died before he finished it.
yesterday's production had a beautiful set—a big wheel that i dream of having enough money to build, because it references both the circus aspects and woyzeck's side job as a lab rat. but all the crazy little bits of text were cut, the plot was organized and streamlined, and it was made even cruder and grotesque without any transcendent sort of ideas. it was only the typical, and i knew within two scenes how it was going to end. unfortunately, it took over an hour to get there.
along the way came some nice pictures, and the set was used well, but certain aspects were totally ignored. the fact that woyzeck is a borderline schizotypal personality hearing voices from the ground and developing a whacked-out conspiracy theory like something out of a dan brown novel was totally glossed over—making the personal struggle only about a kind of bourgeois jealousy and not about woyzeck's existential struggle to understand a world that suddenly became totally foreign to him.
and the play opened with the captain scene—repeatedly in the play you see a man who you know is struggling to keep control over his mind handling rather sharp objects, and who is even described as running around like an open razor blade. there's a beautiful scene where woyzeck is shaving the captain, which normally comes after you know he's a bit off-kilter and the captain is berating him over his immorality. the whole scene can be totally suspenseful and beautifully dangerous, especially because woyzeck is clearly rushing through the shaving, but instead the captain came out in a naked fatsuit wearing only underwear, commanded no respect or importance, and woyzeck was instead forced to give him a handjob. totally gratuitous. it was basically a carnival of penis jokes.
marie, woyzeck's girl, who is supposed to be this totally incomprehensible abyss, was played as nothing but a stereotypical tramp, with no element of mystery to her. there's a scene that's totally wicked because she's standing with the drum major and about to sleep with him when she abruptly changes her mind and dares him to come a step nearer. in this one she said the line and then they screwed anyhow. the whole production played to the obvious and didn't even attempt to surprise. i'm all for the use of the grotesque, the carnival, and all that, but it has to be overlying something more serious. all the serious problems of the play were ignored for some hammy acting and tom waits music, which at least was well-played and sometimes even well-sung.
i realize i'm not the ideal audience for anything but a brilliant production of the play, because i know it so well. i can't guarantee that my production will be brilliant either, but i hope it will be a little bit better thought out and more entertaining than the one i just witnessed.
i also caught a production of salome here in stuttgart, which is a really lovely play but is hard to find a good reason to do. i didn't really think this production found one either. actually, wilde's really lovely with language but the whole art-for-art's-sake thing i disagree with on principle. this one had some lovely costumes and a really great set idea—the whole floor was black drywall sheets that crumbled underfoot, but they would have been better used in danton's death than salome. the earth being a thin crust and all that. there was some play with all the gay subtext (big surprise with wilde), and some hint that there is an impulse to destroy unfulfilled desire, but overall it was a purely aesthetic romp through a pretty pretty pile of words. maybe there's no good reason to do the play other than it's pretty. maybe i'll think that's ok one day.