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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Historical Angst Wins Germans No Tumors

The Baltic House Theater festival drew to a tumultuous close last week with a lavish prize-giving ceremony in which the best productions, directors and actors to emerge over St. Petersburg's annual 10-day theater feast were all presented with the ugliest pieces of pottery I have ever seen in my life, some of which looked like huge, glazed tumors.


Contrary to general expectation, top tumor went to a scintillating Estonian chamber piece called "The Pianola," a weave of various motifs from Chekhov brought to gut-wrenching life by a spectacular ensemble cast. Lesser prizes -- or, shall we say, polyps -- were awarded to Lermontov's "Masquerade" and to a Norwegian puppet production of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler."


However, for the second year running, Germany's contribution to the festival barely merited a mention at the ceremony. But then the Germans seem intent on exporting to Russia some of the weirdest, most esoteric examples of experimental theater that audiences here have experienced since the iconoclastic 1920s.


East Berlin's Volskbuhne Theater sent two-thirds of its audience stumbling towards the Baltic House exits last year with "Murx," an exploration of the crushing tedium of life under communism, told in elongated stretches of reptilian action, long sections of fragmented vacuum and great tracts of endless song.


This year's offering from Hamburg's Schauspielhaus, entitled "Clouds. Native Home." was another loose-limbed assemblage of domestic episodes from Germany's past and present as six bouffanted hausfraus marched, masturbated and did terrific impressions of Adolf Hitler.


The hostility provoked by both shows is certainly connected with the form of this kind of theater, which is extremely alien to classically oriented Russian tastes. But it also arises from the opposing national characters of two countries with equally horrific historical legacies. While the Germans are meticulously contemplating their past in works such as these, Russians seem blithely unconcerned or opposed to such activity.


"At a forum we held," Jossi Wiler, director of "Clouds" told me after the show, "one Russian critic asked me what all this German angst had to do with Russia. But then another critic made the point that even if it had been set in Russia and about Russian characters, these same people would be complaining about it. The show is more about how one can look at one's own history and learn from it."


Which is, as the electorate threatens to propel the country back into the past, a valuable, if ridiculously simple message. Due to funding hiccups, the Baltic House Festival won't return until the autumn of 1997. But I hope the Germans are back with more outlandish, experimental theater, ready once more to be mocked, ridiculed and revered. One day, their cultural investment might just pay off.





" which included a bust of the author himself with unnerving, shifty, moving eyeballs


. Native Home.


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