Survival Techniques

Dea Loher’s play „Diebe“ has everything this year’s tt theme promises. Wolves and crises, the return of Nature and problems. Unfortunately, this new work from a living dramatist failed to excite my imagination, my hopefulness or even my willingness to sit in the theater.

Swinging in the Storm. Photo: Arno Declair

Have you ever tried to eat six saltines in under a minute without drinking any water? It’s nearly impossible, I know. There are ways to train yourself for this feat of all feats, but the sensible amongst us would probably ask: why bother?

Likewise, it takes a lot of training to sit through pieces like Andreas Kriegenburg’s production of Dea Loher’s play „Diebe“ („The Thieves“).

For those of you reading this who are either a. not-German or b. don’t go to the German theater very often, here’s a small list of exercises to prepare yourself for „Diebe“.  I am convinced that if you follow these simple steps, you’re likely to be able to sit through the piece (all the way through!  without falling asleep!) and maybe, just maybe, you’ll leave the theater a little less depressed than I did.

„Give us the list!“ you say.


1. Accustom yourself to senseless violence. Don’t guffaw at blatant sexual innuendos or sexual scenes that aren’t sexy. Violence, sex, love and clipping toenails will be handled in the same manner. The only perceivable difference when the actors want to express emotion will be one of volume. Violence and extreme sadness and sex are typically loud. Love is usually quiet.

2. Be prepared to hear words like „observe“. Look up all variants in your bilingual dictionary if you don’t speak German. If you hear „observe“ or any word in its thesaurus constellation, smile. Soon the actors on stage are going to look out into the audience. They will probably be staring. You never know, the pretty actress might make eye contact with you and if you smile and meet her at the party afterwards, she might remember you. For the advanced theater goer or the brave, laughing a little is worth attempting, but not too much – you don’t want to ruin the chances of your fellow audience members.

3. Don’t allow the provocation of the actors to really provoke you. Remember, you’re educated, and a fine example of your self-awareness and social status is that you don’t take yourself too seriously; that you can let the actors taunt you without feeling threatened.

4. Learn that your sense of humor is very different from the typical German sense of humor. Try really hard to not compare their watered down versions of Monty Python or Charlie Chaplin to Monty Python or Charlie Chaplin.  Repeat this step as many times as necessary. Recommended preparation would be in the form of fan videos of your favorite gags and shows.  Learn to love the fan videos more than the original.

Please Bear With Me. Photo: Arno Declair

Are you reconsidering whether you want to go through with the experience? Are your doubts getting the better of you?

Don’t worry, because Kriegenburg’s production of „Diebe“ had more, oh so much more!

There is talk of petty thieves and there are people who live petty lives and feel like thieves.

There is a bravado of the everyday that feels like it’s meant to feel like a tragedy (does that sound convoluted? It is!). The only tragedy, however, being that the stories and emotions are so stylized in over-exaggerated gestures and, from my foreigner’s perspective, failed jokes, that it feels like a failed birth, it feels like a self-congratulatory celebration of bourgeois ideals in these oh so tragic times of crisis (indeed, I witnessed a lot of snobbery, a lot of chortling when a Tomason talked about getting a mail correspondence equivalent of a GED, a lot of snide side looks when the characters were faced with challenges, as if the audience was congratulating itself for living so comfortably, for not letting the crisis-wolf get all too close).

There are also a lot of Tomasons. There are characters named Tomason.  There is a description of what a Tomason means to the Japanese photographer Akasegawa.  But like Thomasson the baseball player, these characters and scenes and explanations promise a lot but never succeed. I’d even go as far as to say this play and this form of production is a Tomason, a type of piece which clearly had a function but which has lost it now. Indeed, in the program, Dea Loher writes of theater as one of the last „anachronistic“ forms of „art“ where „a society can question itself.“ And while I don’t believe this is true (surely other art forms are capable of doing this as well), I would fully agree that this kind of theater is anachronistic and has almost nothing to do with me today, unlike other theater forms like the Nature Theater of Oklahoma.

Spinning Theater-mill and couches. Photo: Arno Declair

But don’t let this fool you. There were some things I liked. I love theater machines. I love things that spin. Therefore, I almost liked Kriegenburg’s stage design (which presented the fugue-like fragments on a windmill, dropping characters in and whisking them away). I loved the costumes, the colors which perfectly fit the mood, the pastel.

The rest of the audience seemed to love not only some aspects of the evening, but all of it. The actors received standing ovations long after the house lights came up.

I for one felt like the piece was referring to moments in the history of comedy but failed to actually be funny due to its lack of comic timing and the fact that it was couched in such cold aesthetics. And though this has, traditionally, worked for people like Beckett or Bruce Nauman, Kriegenburg’s actors exploited gestures that were too obvious and simple.  They lacked intellectual subtlety or the silliness of television. It was just bland, bland, bland.  Like Saltines.

The largest problem, however, was that I already felt like I saw that play, like I read that book, like I’d sat through countless versions of that movie. Here someone might be tempted to add ‚but there’s nothing new under the sun,‘ and then I’d be obligated to say, yeah, sure, great, but there are personal configurations (see Nature Theater of Oklahoma), there are personalities who take what they experience and what they’ve read/seen/heard and they add their own spin on it.  Unfortunately, the only thing spinning at the premiere of „Diebe“ was the stage.


Shane Anderson

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