postcards from berlin #1 [who needs this?]
PROFESSOR BERNHARDI (r. ostermeier) @ schaubühne
after resolving to have something to say about everything i look at the first piece kind of left me empty-handed. i guess my main thought leaving the theatre was “who needs this?”
show’s been running since february, and tickets have been hard to come by. i went at 18.00 to line up for rush tickets for a show starting at 20.00. it was nominated for theatertreffen (but not selected). i’m not the biggest ostermeier fan but i try to see his work to identify what all the fuss is about. i’m still a bit baffled.
it’s not often that i sit in theatres here and hear knowing moral murmurs passing through the house. this audience clearly knew where they stood and that wasn’t really disrupted for them. nazis & populists are bad, jews are perfectly acceptable members of the bourgeoisie, and it’s sad when middle-aged men in high-paying professions try to do the right thing and then have their careers dismantled by other middle-aged men's political maneuverings.
what i saw was a strong show of craft and not much art. inasmuch as ostermeier has a steady hand for scenework and clean transitions, and his actors are clearly committed to a whipfast throwaway kind of naturalism they developed together. i found myself missing eidinger’s chaos, even if it can often be a gravitational force that pulls a piece into the orbit of his performer’s ego (richard III). he at least brings a dangerous and seductive charisma that puts a piece at risk of teetering into ethical confusion.
what struck me most leaving the theatre (aside from how the gorki's transition has made the lily-white lineup of 15 actors at curtain call seem embarrassingly obsolete even in europe) was how two changes of leadership in the city (at volksbühne and BE) have redrawn the theatrical map and left ostermeier suddenly in the strange position of the conservative old guard, taking over the territory peymann used to occupy. maybe they really should let ersan mondtag have the place and wreak some refreshing havoc.
or maybe the takeaway is that it’s not really useful or satisfying to see an auteur execute his vision unchallenged. the result can be a piece that’s too clean, too slick, and too clear—theatre is most exciting when the director doesn’t really win the game of dramaturgical whack-a-mole, and leaves some jagged edges to irk and upset.
for more on the show click here.