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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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Beteilige Dich mit einem Kommentar an der Diskussion!

  1. 1.

    So basically you’re an ex-pat (or wannabe-ex-pat) that goes to Berlin theatre shows and then can only write about the theatre he actually likes, that being the American theatre of Nature Theater of Oklahoma.

    Maybe your German (and sense of humor) just suck. Wish I could have those 5 minutes of my life I wasted reading your non-review back.

    von Really?
  2. 2.

    Junge, Junge, was ist das denn gewesen? Kann Deiner Kritik wirklich in jedem Punkt zustimmen. Ein beinahe von Anfang bis Ende unerträglicher Abend. Ein Mann vor mir rief zwischendurch einmal sogar, als es mal wieder Szenenapplaus gab, laut „Buh!“ dazwischen und setzte damit das in die Tat um, was mir die ganze Zeit auf der Seele brannte. Was zum Teufel hat da die Jury geritten? Selbst die ach-so-bemerkenswerte Bühne sieht im Theater nicht wie eine ästhetisch interessante Maschine aus, sondern viel mehr als wäre Tine Wittler mit ihrem Team vorbeigekommen, um ein paar Sperrholzplatten in kleinbürgerlich-spießigem „Terrakotta-Beige“ zu streichen. Ich hatte eigentlich vor bereits längerer Zeit gehofft, daß mir derart unerträgliches Theater erspart bliebe.

    von Kai Krösche
  3. 3.

    I guess people were friendlier at the premiere. Did anyone laugh when you saw it?

    Terracotta-beige. hahahaha. Maybe you should have chanted that when the actors were taking their bows?

    And, also, I’m really sorry I was right. I didn’t want to be right. Really.

    von Shane Anderson
    • I absolutely understand what you mean. Actually, I really really didn’t want you to be right, either, even if this would’ve meant that I’d be sitting here right now writing another article.

      The people laughed a lot, there was even occasional applause in between the scenes. I felt pretty lonely when that happened. However, Kim and Anna liked it, as far as I understood them. They should be commenting here soon, too.

      von Kai Krösche
  4. 4.

    Dearest Really,

    Yes. Yes I liked Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Yes I hated Diebe.

    No. No my German doesn’t suck. No my sense of humor doesn’t suck. No you can’t get those minutes back. Sorry.

    What is a wanna be expat? What is an expat? What do you think about the piece?


    ps I like/d other theater pieces too, but these were the only two pieces I had seen in this tt up till then. hence the relevance of supporting something i find exciting in the festival vs. something i didn’t find exciting in the festival. that makes sense, right?

    von Shane Anderson
  5. 5.

    And hey Mr. Really, maybe it’s sometimes better to discuss than to just to flame. That’s also a reason we’re doing this online: To get you readers to critisize us and our opinions. In a helpful way, that is. Convince us, that we’re wrong.

    von Kai Krösche
  6. 6.

    I should mention it’s „MS. Really“. Also, I agree, we ARE doing this publicly, so why did our dear Blogger Shane feel the need to personally email me to complain I hurt his feelings?

    This is not worth my time at all. Had this been a real review that did more than complain Berlin theatre isn’t Nature Theatre of OK, I’d feel more inclined to comment further. And by the way, that IS constructive: next time, review the play, don’t just say what it’s not.

    You’re all very welcome.

    von Really?
  7. 7.

    Well maybe, MISS Really, our indeed dear blogger Shane thought it would be kind of pathetic to become personal on a public blog. Obviously, there are people who do not share his opinion concerning this matter.

    I think Shane actually did review the play, only his techniques were different from what you can already read in every newspaper anyway. Since he really hated it (and I can fully understand him there), he chose to write a polemic, which is very funny and spot-on, I think, even if you loved the play.

    Commenting about reviews isn’t about hurt feelings. I don’t like to read a negative review about a play I loved, either, but I can still challenge the critic in an intellectual rather than in an insulting way. So let’s not let the anonymity of the internet leave us all good manners behind.

    von Kai Krösche
  8. 8.

    whoa whoa whoa.

    i emailed because your comment was marked in a folder for not published (then it got published all of a sudden, by someone else, after the fact). i emailed because your comment seemed personal and not really public. i emailed because pot-shots seem unnecessary. i don’t really want this to be personal, so let’s stop there. i have nothing against you.

    let’s talk about what you don’t like of my review, because that’s interesting to me.

    I’m not saying that Berlin theater should be more like NT of OK, that everything should be the same thing. Heaven forbid! I’m saying that „Life and Times“ was something within the festival which worked for me. „Kleiner Mann Was Nun?“ also really worked for me. At the time, I had only seen „Life and Times“ and „Diebe“ and so I was trying to remain within the realm of the festival. That doesn’t seem so off-base to me.

    Didn’t I review the play? Did you want me to tell you what happened? Should I have listed all the actors and characters? Or shouldn’t one be allowed to explore the play in a series of impressions? Isn’t that the potential of a blog? Especially when one already has all the information to the play with just a click of the mouse? Especially when I’ve tried to do all the footwork for you and I’ve linked everything?

    Apparently, this review or the play hit a nerve, otherwise you wouldn’t have been so haste to post hate nor would you have followed up. Either way, I would appreciate SOME consideration and not just in the sense of manners, but rather some sort of exploration of the play, by you or someone else, that would contradict me. I’m totally open to dialogue and have been waiting for such an opportunity since the beginning of the festival.

    Happy theater-going,


    von Shane Anderson
  9. 9.

    I’ll own up to an inflammatory comment that was neither nice, nor particularly constructive.

    @Kai, however, defending Shane for misusing my information (my required email address) on the basis that he didn’t want to get personal on a public blog when he had ALREADY gotten personal in the comments section by writing specifically to me isn’t a very good argument.

    Writing in a public forum opens one up to criticism. I’m willing to take it–PUBLICLY–as should Shane be. Writing me a personal email to complain about a negative comment is not acceptable on the part of any blogger or journalist. Grow a thicker skin.

    von Really?
  10. 10.

    here’s the email for posterity:


    here are the answers to your questions:

    1. what’s a wanna be expat?

    2. i wrote about something i didn’t like -diebe- and didn’t write about something i did like -nature theater.
    2′. the festival has just begun, as i’m sure you’re aware, and these were the two first productions i saw.
    2“. i just saw ‚kleiner mann, was nun?‘ and i thought it was great.

    3. i don’t really think my german sucks. but i’ll let you be the judge. you can listen to me speak about the piece on the site as well. in german.
    3′. it wouldn’t really matter if my german sucked, since there was a very, very good translation in surtitles.
    3“. i had already read the piece before.

    4. i’m sorry you feel like you wasted your time, but i wish you hadn’t wasted my time with just hatefulness. some constructive debate would have been more interesting.

    oh well,

    : end.

    i don’t feel like you hurt my feelings. my feelings don’t feel hurt. i just thought i would respond to this and AGAIN at the time, your comment was not public and it looked like it wasn’t going to be made public due to its inflammatory nature.

    (also on that form it looked like your name was the email address, so when i clicked on it, it opened the mail window, hence me emailing you with the other info of it not being made public at the time. apologies if you feel intruded upon, no offense was intended)

    von Shane Anderson
  11. 11.

    the email, also is dated at 12.30. my comment at 12.35 when i logged on and saw the comment live.


    von Shane Anderson
  12. 12.

    Sorry, Shane, I didn’t see your follow-up until I had already written the previous post.

    I mainly didn’t like the review because I felt like it just talked about how it wasn’t NToO. TT tends to bring in a lot of people who don’t spend much time in Berlin, seeing the theatre here, getting to know the scene, the playwrights, etc. Seeing a review of a show I really enjoyed by someone who doesn’t live here and then repeatedly referenced an American theatre group and how they do things better, was really frustrating. No one likes to have outsiders come in and dis what they love as a crappier version of something from their own home base.

    I am sorry I attacked so hastily and made it personal. I was fueled by several fine, German beers and several years of hearing very smart, very snotty theatre people hating all things theatre. It was mostly mis-directed anger. I’m sorry for taking it out on you.

    I thought the play was funny, smart, cubistic, reminiscent, full of stories, and earnest in a way that much of the jaded Berlin theatre scene lacks.

    That being said, I highly recommend you don’t contact posters by personal email, no matter how personal the critique feels. It’s a public blog and a public post–keep it in the public forum. If it’s really just a stupid, inflammatory remark, ignore it: it’s not worth your time.

    von Really?
  13. 13.

    Hello Really,

    thanks for your substantial comments.

    actually, yeah, i live in Berlin too and i know what you mean about snobbery. i wasn’t trying to be a snob. i felt like the people sitting around me were snobs. but that’s not really the point.

    it could just boil down to a difference of taste. maybe? i seem to have a very different sense of / taste in humor than you do. maybe? people like donald barthelme make me laugh until i cry. thomas bernhard keeps me smirking the nights away. i just felt like i knew where every joke was going both on the stage and on paper in loher’s play. i felt cheated and disappointed watching the jokes develop on stage. i wish she would have really let out the absurdity or the coldness, but being somewhere between is a very difficult thing to do and one which i don’t think she achieved this feat. i guess bernhard would be someone who does. but then again, he’s the king of jaded. maybe ashberry would be a better example?

    i guess i’m also kind of sick of stories that seem to have nothing to do with one another but then always end up linking. it seems too easy actually. more exciting to me are stories which maybe have nothing to do one another but which, poetically, express a series of emotions or ideas. this seems like something that could/should be explored more. having everything tightly wrapped up for me at the end makes me feel like the playwright thinks i’m an idiot. like they think i need some sort of arching narrative (and linear at best!) to make sense of the emotions explored.

    on a theater biz note: do you think sophiensaele is so jaded? and hau? i’d wager to say they’re pretty open.

    and i won’t go into the email confusion again, but I’m SORRY if you felt it was intrusion. I just didn’t think the comment would go online and I was hoping for some more commentary on the actual review. You did that, and for that I’m thankful.

    Take care,

    von Shane Anderson
  14. 14.

    Ich muss Kriegenburgs „Diebe“ verteidigen.

    Die Figuren sind überzeichnet, können keine tiefen psychologischen Einblicke geben. Aber darum geht es doch auch. Was hinterlassen wir Menschen, welche Spuren (von denen immer wieder die Rede ist)? Kontos, Mietverträge, amtliche Registrierungen, Bonuskarten bleiben – zumindest sucht die Schwester des Selbstmörders Finn danach. Findet aber nichts. Und so weiß sie am Ende nichts über ihn. Eine andere Dame wartet 43 Jahre auf ihren Mann. Auch er hat keine Spuren hinterlassen. Sie weiß bis heute nicht, warum er gegangen ist. Kein tiefes Erkennen, nirgends. Ich finde das ein sehr trauriges Menschenbild. Eine Komödie war das nicht. Oder das überdrehte Ehepaar, das in seinem Garten einen Wolf vermutet, das sich in ein bisschen Wildheit hineinsteigert. Kontrollverlust über das geordnete Heim. Dagegen steht das kontrollierte Spiel.

    Wie Shane fand ich die Bühne gut: Das Rad hat geknarzt, wenn es sich drehte, wenn sich die Theatermaschine drehte und das Leben gleich mit. Großartig, wie die Figuren teilweise am Schaufelrad kleben, so als würde der Lauf der Zeit sie einfach immer weiter mitragen. Dann wieder können sie ganz leicht darauf herumturnen, schaukeln sogar.

    Kriegenburg zündet mit seinen Slapstick-Einlagen Nebelkerzen, manchmal scheint er den Text nicht ganz ernst zu nehmen, aber welch Triumph für mich dahinter doch noch die Verstrickungen der Figuren zu erkennen, unsere Lebensumstände: Dass die Menschen auseinandergetrieben werden, weil die Welt so groß ist, man überall zum Arbeiten hingegen kann und muss, in einer Zeit, in der man diskutiert, was man mit einem Facebook-Profil macht, wenn jemand gestorben ist. Das ist das gute: Oberflächlich ist das eine Holzhammer-Inszenierung. Dahinter ist alles ganz zart und fein.

    von Anna Pataczek
  15. 15.

    Hey Anna,

    great commentary! and it’s great to see some things from a different perspective.


    I’ll answer you in English so that our non-German speakers can know what you’re talking about!

    You mention that Loher’s text talks asks the question: what traces do we leave? And it seems you say that we leave next to no traces.

    But, isn’t Loher’s thesis that things do leave traces? Hence the whole Tomason concept? The husband may be gone, but the memory of him remains. For 43 years.

    And, as you mention, the couple talks about the wolf/thief leaving traces a number of times as well. And then these traces turn into something else. There’s something else there, I think, besides just ‚you can’t take it with you.‘ Maybe this isn’t what you’re saying and I don’t want to put words in your mouth…

    From this perspective it seems that Loher wanted to try and get to the absolute essence of what we leave behind. Which, in a roundabout sort of way, addresses the question: what is a life?

    These are big questions but I felt like they were treated in a rather blase manner. I feel like the text lacked finesse and it took me over 3 weeks to read it, where normally I’m a voracious and fast reader.

    It took me 3 weeks because I kept putting it down, knowing where each of the scenes was going but not being excited enough to figure out how. Charles Olson talks about projective verse and for me, Loher started with a topic that has a lot of energy but which did not deliver that energy to the reader or the viewer. (I could quote some passages here but I’m sure this is long enough as it is)

    The question remains whether Kriegenburg opened up these questions of leaving traces and what a life means, whether he had an answer or gave the audience space to think about them. I think he squashed them. And, yeah, I think you’re right, he didn’t seem to take the text totally seriously. But, I’ve blabbered enough for now.


    von Shane Anderson
  16. 16.

    I’d say that the Thomasson thing is more about people leaving traces which other people however cannot interpret anymore. Traces you don’t know what they ought to tell you. Like an ancient language you can’t read and will not be able to translate ever.

    von Kai Krösche
  17. 17.

    I saw Diebe on monday and I left in the intermission. A thing I very rarely do, but this time I felt there was no point in staying. Several of the audience around me where sleeping during the show. I come to TT to get inspiration for my own work and see good theatre. Normally the plays that are presented at this event holds a very high standard. I thought the acting was uninteresting and the figures acted like in a cartoon.
    THe set looked really nice in the program, and the idea was nice but it felt empty and too obvious when on stage it turned round and round. no surprises, no magic, no mysterious. The evening before I saw krankenzimmer nr 6 on the same stage, and I was all satisfied and happy. The acting and the set by the master Katrin Brack was intellegent and a real theatre machine, never stopping, beautiful everlasting motion.
    I have also seen was nun…. by Fallada and it was the best I have seen in a long time, high quality in everything; The lightdesign was brilliant and shining ( by Max Keller), sharp and showed a clear idea – sensitive and really very nice, a quality you rearly see. I also saw Trust by Falk Richter, a dance, talk, show witch I also liked. Intence and close. last night I saw the same actors giving HALMLET on the same stage and I was absolutely stunned by the range that they have. They can do it all with presence and accuraccy. I it really inspiering to see. The set by Jan Pappelbaum is also a beautiful theatre machine with poetry instead of sqeeking and sounds from the machine when in moves.
    happy to be here – lucky you all who can stay the whole festival time.

    von Ellen Ruge