postcards from berlin #3 [vicious clowning]
≈[ungefähr gleich] (r. salehpour) @ schaubühne
first thought: see, see, germans CAN do comedy sometimes.
second thought: upon further research turns out the playwright’s swedish-tunisian (jonas hassen khemiri) and the director is german-iranian (mina salehpour). so there’s no guarantee that it’s the german part of that cultural mix that made it funny.
third thought: what is it in us that is so satisfied by the new play dramaturgy of “several seemingly disconnected humans turn out to share a connection in the end”? i mean it isn’t new—schnitzler’s reigen / la ronde arguably is the first major instance of it. andrew bovell and alice birch have both had success with it as well. is this a product of industrialization and the great urban shift that came with it—we’ve ended up in these big chaotic cities where we’re divorced from an easily readable sense of legacy/history (i.e. family & community lineage) and find some relief in fictionalized accounts that show us that we’re not completely and senselessly isolated from each other, that there still might be some greater universal logic binding causality and effect in our actions? there’s always a palpable satisfaction in the audience, a collective release when the links in the chain come full circle. i wonder if this is actually a discrete genre that’s emerged in the last century that hasn’t been articulated because we haven’t categorized the emotional response it elicits. if anything it’s related to thriller or mystery. or it has probably been articulated and i’m ignorant of it. and i bet there’s a long german word for “the feeling of existential satisfaction derived from narratives that reinforces the assumption that the order of the universe has us more connected than we perceive."
fourth thought: it’s nice to see some really vicious clowning—it’s a hard thing to get out of actors in any culture. it’s something i often find myself trying to achieve but comedy can be so mysterious that it’s useful to see to try to articulate. it’s a strange tightrope that exists between over-ironic (aka sarcasm) and cutesy (or whimsical)—on either side of the tightrope, there’s a safety net, the stakes are exponentially lower, but pitched in a really savage zone, it’s emotionally connected, deep, deadly serious, and brutally funny. it’s not a question of aesthetics or style—there was a hefty dose of camp in a very non-naturalistic staging and acting approach—but rather of stakes. it works when actors keep the tension between what’s to be gained vs what’s to be lost as high as possible. which isn’t easy or comfortable. it takes discipline to keep a conflict as extreme as possible, and it can often fade over a long run. it’s nice to see a young intercultural director here using comedy to tackle difficult topics (the economy, race)—salehpour talks in a preview interview about how she’s been criticized for over-irreverence about topics from nazism to refugees. “i have been told each time that my work is too absurd, that there are too many jokes, or even that it is arrogant. but that is not my intention. i wish instead to crack things open with laughter and initiate a discussion. i think ›critical‹ is a better word for my approach because it is about creating distance from the problem. one does not remain a prisoner of a system. instead, one achieves, very much in brecht’s sense, a v-effekt (estrangement effect). i am interested not in narrating in a documentary fashion, but through fables.”
for more on the show click here.