Le petit flambeau

L'Autriche vue par un universitaire français…

When promising theater turns to dubious postmodern cabaret – Linz ’09

Official poster of the Purimspil (a comment? "Kolossale Finesse", no?)

It’s always difficult to write about a play which one did not like. I mean, I guess we all want to support cultural initiatives and in my case, I had many good reasons to travel to Linz and experience the Purimspil, staged by the Israeli David Maayan. I really mean « experience » because almost four years ago, I had been very enthusiastic about Family Table (Familientisch) during the Wiener Festwochen 2005. We started in the streets around the Schauspielhaus, each group of 7 to 10 people led by one actor who told us about his/her life, and more precisely the exile they lived. The specificity of the surroundings was smartly integrated in the plot which was told, a tree which went over a fence was used to tell childhood reminiscence, the history-laden Jewish cemetery of the Seegasse was also part of the story. We then took the tram and all the groups arrived in a depot of one of the main train station (Westbahnhof). There, it appeared that we all sat at a huge table were the stories told by the different actors one hour before began to interfere one with another.

This time, the play, Purimspil, was part of Linz ’09, the cultural program of Linz as a European capital of culture. Moreover, the cast included Rafael Goldwaser, a friend of mine who is leading the Lufteater in Strasburg. He is also a great actor and I enjoyed a lot in 2006 his adaptation of Sholem Aleichem stories (It’s burning!).

So what was the trouble in Linz last Saturday when I went there? Well, first, when you arrive at the train station, you see the poster of the exhibition « The Fuhrer’s Capital of Culture (Kulturhauptstadt des Führers) ». You see a photo of the daily life at this time. People smiling, absolutely any no trace of National Socialism… The Spiegel called it « A dubious exhibition » (ici en français, hier auf Deutsch).

Ok, fine, but we want to read about the Purimspil!  Yes, I’m coming to it. The play is located in an amazing place, the « Cembran Keller », an adit system (Stollensystem) which is in fact a labyrinth of galleries under a mountain which served first to store wine and which was developed by slaves from the Mauthausen concentration camp to offer shelter during the 1944 and 1945 bombings by the Allies. In the official presentation of the place, in the program which is given with a pig mask (see foto above), they start stating that it was an air-raid shelter for the civilians and that « from June 1944, 8.000 fell on Linz and that they destroyed 70% of the housings. The story with the slaves from the concentration camp is rapidly mentioned, later on, without mentioning that it was directly linked to Mauthausen. Of course, it reminded me of one of my other surprises, when I went to Hinterbrühl.

The play starts exactly like for Family table: actors start speaking to a group of spectators, at the entrance of this galleries. I had the chance to be with Rafael who told us about the legend of Purim, how the queen Esther saved the Jewish people and the fact that it’s like a carnival but « with contents ». It was very nice, Rafael spoke a mix of Yiddish (his mother tongue) and German… but it lasted only 5 minutes. Then we were brought in silence in this labyrinth. We had to stay along a wall during a minute or two, the light went off, at some point we heard a siren. OK we got it, it was as if we were under real conditions. The trouble was that it was quite boring: the walk along a few sandy paths, the time when we waited in silence, when we let another group go, and wait again in the dark.  Of course, there were some actors at some points, but they hardly played. One of them tried to drag a corpse which was in a plastic bag and kept on saying « shit » between two rales. No other words. It lasted almost 40 minutes. Much too long. The only interesting moment I remember is when all our group entered a big empty barrel and we became objects for another group which went by.

Like for Family table, we arrived then on a huge catwalk podium with a band playing and many actors kept as animals. Rapidly we understand that Jews are shown as pigs. I do not care that pigs are not kosher for religious people, if that is the provocation, it’s just bad. There is even a real pig head which is at some point eaten by one of actors (the one who plays Haman). At some point, the play turns to be really gory. The slaughter of a pig, for instance, is played in slow motion with all possible sound effects. It reminded me of the worst plays by Frank Castorf which I saw at the Volksbühne when I lived in East-Berlin, in the mid 1990s. So-called postdramatic theater, no plot, just a series of provocations. This time, at least, the actors did not have to get naked. We have the blood, the concentration camp uniforms with big numbers, but when they undress,  they keep white nightclothes. The fact that the text has been written with a trendy novelist (Joshua Sobol). To make sure that we don’t miss the name, the text of a scene (if the word is still appropriate) is given to each spectator with his name on it (if only I’d known before he was the author of the F@LCO – A CYBER SHOW…). All acting units are cut by nice music interludes. Sometimes it is supposed to serve the story of Purim (which you have to know quite well to understand what’s happening), sometimes it’s just for the pleasure of music and I can tell you that the guy who plays a drums solo is terrific… and, by the way, they all played a kind of interlude at the Opernball Vienna (have a look).

The problem is that we sat on wooden banks during more than 2 hours after the 40 minute walk in the labyrinth. Waitresses try to make us drink with local red or white wines which were really bad. I was disappointed because I expected theater and I got a mix of cabaret. I must also add that I find it more than dubious to play with such material like concentration camp uniforms… especially when the (Austrian) audience is laughing, in such a place. The subtitle of the play, « the game to survive » (Das Spiel vom Überleben) is also – at least – badly chosen.

To go further:

  • Regarding Linz, read this amazing story which tells a lot about Linz in 2008(!), « Austria pulls Aphrodite statue given by Hitler« . See also one of the episodes of Télé-vérité Autriche (in German, on the highschool where Hitler and Wittegnstein went)
  • Read a more positive article (Die Presse) on this play or this one (but the author just writes « klingt doch interessant und herausfordernd », he hasn’t seen it).
  • Another Israeli play at Linz 09: Wish upon a star & an Arab dream (PDF)
  • More on this location and the link to Mauthausen:  Perz, Bertrand, « Auf Wunsch des Fuehrers »- Der Bau von Luftschutzstollen in Linz durch Haeftlinge des KZ Mauthausen, Zeitgeschichte, 22. Jg. September/Oktober 1995, Heft 9/10, 342-56 (the whole journal is online). See also this Gusen Tour during Linz ’09.
  • An international theater festival will take place in the same Stollensystem.
  • An interesting exhibition conceived by Centropa which will take place in the Fall  (27 Oct. – 11 Dec.).

All these events are parts of Linz ’09.

17 mars 2009 - Posted by | Autriche, Nazisme

2 commentaires »

  1. Hier das « Schwein » in ähnlicher Konnotation, aber effektiv als Symbol eingesetzt:

    Spannender Artikel zur « Purimspil ». Das scheint aber ein allgemeines Kulturhauptstadtsyndrom zu sein, hier im Ruhrgebiet zeichnet sich schon jetzt Ähnliches für 2010 ab.

    Commentaire par Shabbes-Goi | 17 mars 2009 | Réponse

  2. Pour ma part, c’est à Budapest que j’ai été choquée par la visite de la citadelle, transformée en bunker nazi, puis en musée « historique » qui parle de l’invasion et l’occcupant russe, et de la resistance nazie, du probleme juif…. certes, c’est disséminé à très petite dose tout au long de l’expo… mais c’est un certain parti pris pour un musée d’histoire de la seconde guerre mondiale!!…

    Et en ce qui concerne la pièce, je ne suis aussi que très peu attirée par le courant actuel de la surenchère du trash et de la provoc’ à gogo, surtout que c’est du déjà vu depuis un bon moment….

    Commentaire par Sarah Molly | 17 mars 2009 | Réponse

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