Seen January 27, 2015
OFF Theater, Wien (Vienna)
Directed by Karl Wozek
Assistant Director: Corinna Harrer
Cast: Mariam Hage, Gerhard Flödl,Carolin Wijffels, Andras Sosko, Jakob Ausserwöger, Sarah Neichl, Michael Pockberger
Alexandra Grigorut, Claudio Györgyfalvay, Corinna Harrer, Tatjana Losing, Jeanette Nagy, Tina Pilgerstorfer, Carina Schäfer, Ivana Stojkvic, Luminita Damaschin
This was not really a performance of the Ödön von Horvath play, but based on it, transferred to a boarding school setting in the present where a group of students have to do a report on the book. Heathers meets The Breakfast Club probably describes it pretty accurately. The original novel was released in 1937 and dealt with the rise of Nazi ideology in schools, murder and – for the teacher from whose POS it is told – finding God and getting the hell out of there.
For those of you not familiar with Horváth: he was an Austro-Hungarian writer who fled to Paris in 1938 after the ‘Anschluss’ (Austria becoming part of the German Reich on March 12) only to be killed by a falling branch on the Champs Elysées June 1. If that’s not ironic* enough for you, it happened during a thunderstorm which he had previously stated he was afraid of more than of the Nazis.
The stage setting was pretty bare and fit the approx. 100 seats theatre well. A few white chipboard boxes that served as seats, desks and pedestals for a monument among other things, a whiteboard that wasn’t used, a huge photograph of Hitler and a deer hanging upside down from the ceiling. The setting was very functional; I didn’t quite get what Hitler was doing there however. Had they stuck to the original play, he would have had everything to do with it, but there was no ideology the students were involved in, they were just pubescent idiot toffs, so that connection went out the window.
The more important thing however is that it was not acted by professional actors, but by second semester acting students. Therefore I will of course not rip into them as I would have otherwise, with one exception (who is not a student): the director. The curtain call summed the whole thing up nicely: complete lack of direction. As much as no one seemed to know where to go during the curtain call, I felt that the students were left hanging by the director throughout the play.
There were too many muwaaaaahaaaaa moments (literal muwahaaas, I’m not kidding), hysterical laughter as well as other grandstanding actions (rolling around on the floor dramatically etc) that just seemed artificial and did not fit and that wasn’t all that seemed affected.
What really bugged me was that Austrian vernacular was spoken with a German accent and PROJECTED.THE.HELL.OUT.OF. I initially thought that was due to the lack of routine, but when the actors ran out of steam and started having issues with their lines, they suddenly talked normally without the unauthentic accent and their acting overall got better by miles. The fact that it allowed us a glimpse of the potential buried there is actually all that justifies the length of the production. Considering most of the audience were friends and family of the performers and a good part of those likely not regular theatre patrons, it ran too long. People were fidgeting in their seats and those on stage were visibly flagging. Taking into account that this was the second performance that day (they played for a student audience earlier on), and it was the first full play this group of students performed, a production that is longer than some Shakespeare plays I have seen in recent years did not seen fair to them.
There were some good moments that showed the talent most of those on stage that night definitely have. Unfortunately, the production didn’t do them a lot of favours. The ‘advertising break’ that apparently served the purpose of giving the gaggle of students that didn’t get a principal role the opportunity to come on stage was too drawn out and socio-critically self-important. Some of the students really made the most out of their scarce time on stage however and made me wonder why they weren’t chosen for a role in the actual play.
The short appearances of the school’s creepy caretaker – janitor for those over the pond – (Michael Pockberger) were absolute highlights for me. Full disclosure: I know the aspiring actor so I’m certainly not impartial. My sister who had never met him before declared him the best thing in the play too and he had people in stitches, so I might not be that far off. He is a tad older than the other students and this certainly helped in forming the character as well. Having read and seen Horváth’s Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Wood), probably his best known work and an Austrian classic, I could absolutely imagine him in it.
Long story short: kudos to the students for all the hours of hard work they put into this production. I hope they get to work with a lot of different directors over the course of their education so they get the opportunity to develop their craft.
*I am aware that this is a Morrissettean misappropriation of the word ironic, but she was born June 1 as was I, so I couldn’t resist.