Heiner Müller, Shakespeare, Ibsen’s patriarchal issues, East German comedy, Fukushima, Haribo, „the modern marriage,“ fascism, capitalism, communism, racism, and even the delay of the brand-new Berlin Airport were all brought up in the Publikumsgespräch following last night’s Ein Volksfeind. On stage, there were at least a dozen people who’d actually worked on the play talking about their take on it, and yet their answers never made any coherent sense; it was as if they’d all been working on different plays. First, I thought this was due to my lack of German skills, or perhaps those of my interpreter. But then one audience member quite simply asked director Lukas Langhoff what the play was about and Langhoff responded that “there is no one true meaning,” continuing on to say he did not want to “force any one theme or meaning onto the audience.”
Right. As we are now arguably living in a so-called postmodern era where any unitary truths have arguably disappeared, I could have swallowed the director’s response if he had succeeded in convincingly transcending any particular “truth.” However, after sitting in the auditorium of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele for two very long hours, I only got bits and pieces of the aforementioned random themes, and none of them fully persuaded my mind or reached my soul. The only thought that constantly came back to my mind was: Too many cooks spoil the broth.
This is why I decided to write this article „collectively.“ That is, I asked all the TT-blog contributors present after the performance to provide their opinion on how „the soup tasted,“ or what they perceived to be the play’s meaning. See if we can’t make sense of this together:
Magdalena Hiller, TT blogger: „There was one theme that stood out for me. It is implied by Failou Seck’s monologue, in which he mentions that the dumb masses are all ignorant and so they shouldn’t even have the right to vote. First, I went along with it, subconsciously agreeing, “yeah, that’s true, they are stupid,” but then later on the opposite opinion came to me, which is that this attitude could easily turn into fascism. This was a very insightful experience triggered by the production.“
Gudrun Pawelke, TT guest-blogger: „The actress Jele Brückner who played Mrs. Stockmann was strong, and the entire performance seemed to be constructed around her. However, I didn’t like the way the show began. It might be true that Ibsen delineated the characters in an oversimplified manner, and that perhaps by casting a black actor as the protagonist an extra layer of meaning could have been added, but I just didn’t find anything funny, enjoyable, or interesting in how Langhoff directed Seck. I couldn’t cope with it. The performance was like patchwork for me. There are too many things to eat on the table, but I rather prefer a well-organized restaurant menu.“
Hamed Eshrat, TT blogger: „I also found it difficult to grasp the main theme. It isn’t that I cannot cope with many different themes floating around in one play; if I could tie all those themes to one thread, or connect them to one feeling, it would have worked perfectly fine for me. But in this play, I couldn’t find that feeling. I was left exhausted by the end.“
Miriam Rose Sherwood, TT blogger: „I couldn’t find any themes at all! You can’t try to say everything, because it’s going to end up amounting to nothing. I thought that they were just trying to tick off all the tropes of German/trendy/avant-garde theatre: live music, shouting, microphones, naked bums, painting on the set. Well, at least there were no videos… The race issue wasn’t clear either. It seemed as though the director was trying to emphasize and ignore the issue at the same time, which of course doesn’t work.“
Florian Duijsens, the TT-blog’s English-language editor: „The main point of this play seemed to be that you could be as idealistic as you want, but there is no point to it because any idealism will just lead to failure, destruction, and being ostracized from your community. That wasn’t only the main point they drew from Ibsen but they also used this idea in reference to East German history. However, these references had no real force or meaning, they just made fun of this country’s history, saying nothing more than “Yeah, so that failed. Silly Socialists…” Also, the whole race issue was completely embarrassing; placed front and center but never actually addressed.“
Lastly, I should add what I thought about this production, though most of my opinion and outrage have already been expressed by the others. The production was decorated with various eye-catching political, social, and intellectual themes, including taboos like racism, but the director seems to have avoided providing a clear opinion about any of them. In terms of the racial issue, from my perspective, it seemed as though they only ended up accentuating a problem that should be already a non-problem.
Oh yes, and if by any chance Mr. Langhoff reads this post, the TT-blog team would like to respectfully disagree with his criticism of online and social media: “Twitter und blogs sind überbewertet [Twitter and blogs are overrated].” Certainly, as we happen to be blogging for this festival, this counterargument should be taken as subjective. However, our main point of disagreement derives from a much wider perspective. When we look around the world now and see what is happening in many Arabic countries, Langhoff’s claims that the internet is nothing more than a Marktplatz and that the power of social media is overestimated are 1) highly contestable and 2) severely out of touch, especially considering the play is about a man looking to expose corruption and crimes against the environment (Assange, anyone?).