History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Post-WWII
A major figure in the German-speaking post-World War II period is Swiss-born Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), notably for "Der Besuch der alten Dame" (The visit, more precisely The visit of the old lady, 1956).
[Alfred] "suddenly finds himself visited by an agent or agency capable of passing judgment on his life. At first he is unable to believe in such a supra-human instrumentality. Gradually convinced of its genuineness, he tries to circumvent the due process which follows- accusation, plea, trial, verdict, all symbolically represented in the play...But in his humanity he comes to accept this visitation of the divine and its consequences- his death. At the climactic moment of his life and of the play he says (to the townspeople): 'I subject myself to your judgment, whatever it may be. For me it is justice'...Alfred's great human achievement is, as Job's was, the acceptance of the triumph of the irrational, and he says: 'I only know that I am putting an end to a senseless life.' For the allegory in Der Besuch der alten Dame ends not on a note of affirmation, as does the Book of Job. Nor, despite the bitterness of Claire's condemnation, is the ending tragic. Dürrenmatt does not believe that tragedy is valid in this time and in this place. The incomprehensible here and now becomes a random executioner" (Fickert, 1967 pp 390-391).
“The plot is developed expressionistically...It is a play of abrupt transitions...There is a harrowing hallucinatory scene in which the desperate victim tries to board a train out of town but is seized with fear that his fellow townsmen may want to throw him under the wheels” (Gassner, 1960 pp 271-272). “The uncanny high point of the action is reached at the end of act 2 where Ill stands on the steps of the train that may carry him to safety. The Gülleners are crowded around him. He wants to leave, and the Gülleners too wish he would board and be off. In sincerity they implore him to get on. He is paralyzed, however, by the fear that they will do him harm. And so the train departs without him. By its mere presence the town had inadvertently brought itself a step closer to catastrophe...The unforgettable feature of act 3 is to have the climactic litany, led by the burgomaster and repeated phrase for phrase by the community, done a second time ‘in toto’. Because the lighting broke down, the cameraman asks them to do it once more...The Gülleners respond as such and go over the whole thing again verbatim” (Chick, 1984 pp 116-120).
"A rather ghastly scene follows her initial meeting with Alfred in which the two, accompanied by Claire's private circus, revisit the wood which was the scene of their trysts...The scene...foreshadows that which is later to come. Alfred waxes almost lyrical in his fond remembrance of things past, but his emotion is made ridiculous even as it grows, for the forest is but an improvisation; the entwined hearts carved by the young lovers are of recent manufacture; the hammering of the woodpecker is the counterfeit issue of a pipe-bowl tapped with a rusty key; the call of the cuckoo is of human origin. To all of this the spectator alone is privy, alone is shaken by the suggestion that the fond delusions of retrospect to which we are all prey are false...The spectator knows that these people have purchased security at too great a price- at the cost of the life of the one man who has found within him the strength to accept moral responsibility- thus with the sacrifice of the universal moral order of which this community was once a part" (Reed, 1961 pp 11-14).
Hortenbach (1965) emphasized the play's Biblical echoes. The old lady's former claim of justice in the paternity suit is exacted as in the Old Testament: 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth' (Exodus 21:23-25)...the same for the two false witnesses who destroyed her life as a woman, now destroyed their life as men, 'the Old Testament requires two witnesses to make evidence conclusive' (Deuteronomy 19:15) and the testimony of the two eunuchs convict Alfred...Just as Christ lost most of His disciples from the one expected...(John 6:66), Alfred loses his supporters. The Gülleners even feel they are in the right, justifying to themselves their own actions...Alfred's treachery is cast in his teeth. Eventually he will be like Christ...'numbered with the transgressors' (Matthew 26:21)" (pp 150-156). Nevertheless, in such plays, "audiences are involved in an appreciation of the non-rationality and randomness of existence, the tragic vision without the comforting form of renewal. The wholeness of the play, the imposition of order on this frightening chaotic vision, is missing" (Como, 1989 p 70). “Not only is it a good play in itself, it is one of the most forceful statements ever made on the corruption of the power of money, a radical indictment of the values of our society and on the hypocrisy on which it is built” (Lumley, 1967 p 243).
"The visit of the old lady"
Time: 1950s. Place: Fictional town of Guellen, Switzerland.
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During difficult economic times, townspeople harbor great hopes in obtaining charitable grants from an immensely wealthy Claire Zachanassian, who once lived their midst 45 years ago, a town of proud traditions, where Goethe spent one night. While practicing his welcoming speech, the mayor notes down biographic facts concerning her, how she succeeded high school courses in botany and zoology, intending to emphasize her generosity. The great lady arrives sooner than expected, having taken an early train and illegally pulling the emergency brake, which she covers up by bribing the station-master. Missing an arm and leg, Claire has no patience for any type of bodily discomfort. She appears especially glad to see Alfred Ill, her lover at the time, in an ill condition. She surprises the townspeople by delivering an empty coffin at her hotel, even more so by declaring she will grant them an enormous sum of money provided they kill her ex-lover for having falsely denied his paternity, which led her to a brothel until freed by a rich client, the first of her seven husbands. She has already castrated and blinded two of Alfred's false witnesses, now part of her entourage. Although the townspeople at first swear they are behind Alfred, before long he has many reasons to worry. The townspeople are suspiciously buying luxurious items on credit. The head of police and the mayor find no reason to arrest her. The priest specifies he should fear God, then advises him to leave town, but, on his way to the train station, the townspeople persistently surround Alfred till he faints in their midst. They then beseech Claire to withdraw her proposal and invest in the community, but she answers she has already invested in it, having bought it out. "The world turned me into a whore; I will turn it into a brothel," she declares. More prosperous times seem imminent, as shown by the new expensive clothes worn by Alfred's daughter, his son's new automobile, his wife's new fur-coat. The mayor arrives at Alfred's general shop with a gun, asking him to commit suicide for the good of the community, but he refuses. A town meeting is organized, broadcast on radio, at which it is covertly decided that Alfred must be exterminated. Once his closest adherent, the schoolmaster, eulogizes Claire before a cheering crowd: "Her aim is to have the spirit of the community transformed into the spirit of justice," he affirms, which the townspeople execute.
Of equivalent interest in this period is Rolf Hochhuth (1931-?) for "Der Stellvertreter" (The vicar, more precisely The deputy 1963), a play on the relation between Nazi Germany and the Roman Catholic Church during World War II and the pontificate (1938-1958) of Pius XII (1876-1958).
Hill (1967) criticized that a "major deficiency of the play is the insufficient attention paid to the powerful secular and ecclesiastical institutions through which actions on both sides were effected. Many characters in the play were members of these strictly controlled German and Catholic organizations, but they have been given a freedom which is not in accord with the controls exerted upon them by their own institutions and environments. The nature of these pressures and controls has hardly been suggested, nor is there any examination of why some characters, such as Gerstein and Riccardo, escaped the mold and exercised so much freedom, nor why the Germans tolerated or encouraged such monstrous actions and the Italians did not...[Another flaw is] the shallow treatment of the papacy...The theology of the Church lays far less emphasis on saving lives than on saving souls through the consolations of religion" (pp 121-122).
"There are numerous conflicts in the drama, Nazi vs Jew, Nazi vs Christian, Axis vs Allies, etc. But surely the most significant is Christian vs Christian, i.e. between those whose first and only priority is to help the Jews (Gerstein and Riccardo) and those whose priorities lie elsewhere...In the fourth act Fontana directly asks Pius to take action...Pius feels that Fontana ought to understand the situation, and does not go into the most important aspect of it- the premise- in any detail, namely that a catastrophe is approaching Christian Europe...The pope's premises, implied in the reference to communism's threat to Christian Europe, are never expressly stated. They are, however, clear within the framework of traditional Catholicism...Another threat to the faith of Catholics- one alluded to in the text [is that] that an ex cathedra pronouncement of the pope in the midst of the war might have caused a schism...The pope is consistently presented in the worst possible light. Fear for his personal safety is occasionally suggested as a motive, as is- more frequently and more significantly- vanity, or pride...The very first sentence he utters contains the title of an encyclical by Pius XI on conditions in Nazi Germany, but his concern is not the spiritual well-being of his flock, to say nothing of the Holocaust, but the threat the war poses to Vatican financial interests in Italian factories...[At risk are] the souls of believing Catholics that would be lost if Russia were to gain control of Europe, or if German Catholics were forced to choose between their Church and their Führer...If the Russians are in some respects viewed primarily as a threat to the political order, rather than to religious faith, in the language of the pope's party, they are viewed almost exclusively in political terms by Riccardo and Gerstein- and in a very positive light, as an alternative to Hitler...Religious terminology is used in reference to temporal situations, sometimes ironically...Throughout the play, Pius and his subordinates do what they can to help the Jews- hiding individuals in monasteries, offering to provide ransom money, and...praying for as long as the Church's primary responsibility, to the faith of its members, is not compromised. Pius experiences no significant conflict...Riccardo, however, believes not only in the primacy of love over faith, but also in the truth of the Catholic Church and in the pope's position as the deputy of Christ on earth" (Glenn, 1984 pp 486-497). “The play’s real protagonist is Father Fontana, whose tragic outcry and assumption of Jewish martyrdom lie at the heart of Hochhuth’s message. What the play tells us is that we all share in the guilt of those years, for none of us acted with sufficient vigor, none of us protested bitterly, clamorously, specifically enough” (Clurman, 1966 p 82).
"Pius XII clearly has to stand for an institution. From Hochhuth's point of view the Jews did not suffer because of just one man, Pacelli-become-Pius. The history of Christian anti-Judaism is embodied in the institution represented by the symbol of the pope. That is, as I understand the play, the reason why the playwright does not try to examine the why of Pius' silence in the face of monumental crimes...But we do have examples to indicate that such a major statement from the head of the Roman Church could have some effect. The most heartening example is the reaction of religious leaders to the Nazi euthanasia program. German doctors and SS troops murdered some fifty thousand retarded, crippled, aged, and insane people who were regarded as burdens to society. Protestants and Catholics, with church officials in the vanguard, protested to such a degree that the Nazis abandoned that program, at least as policy. This leads us to wonder what an encyclical opposed to anti-Semitism might have achieved. What would the excommunication of Adolf Hitler, who when he died was still on the tax rolls of the Catholic Church, have achieved? And placing Germany under a papal interdict would have to have had an enormous impact. There was precedent for such action. Pope Pius VII excommunicated the supporters of Napoleon and Pius XII himself, in 1949, excommunicated communists from the Church, but never nazis" (Cargas, 1986 pp 32-34).
"Until Hochhuth no playwright had been bold enough to conjure up Auschwitz, to imagine how that black hole might be dramatized. There in the infernal shadows...the diabolical figure of the doctor. Unnamed but based loosely on Josef Mengele, he taunts and defies the merciful God of believing Christians and Jews. It is the doctor, not a deity, who holds the power of life or death, and atrocities intended to inflict maximal pain and torment and anonymous death are committed with impunity. The doctor knows that such wickedness can be unlimited. He is fiendishly conscious of undermining the very traditions of Enlightenment rationalism- that is, the ideals of progressive tolerance and Bildung- that Nazism had so deliberately reversed...[The play] portrays the pope as icily indifferent to deportations beneath his window. What happens on his watch is nothing less than the Nazi conquest of a continent that has served as the historic center of Christendom. There a new commandment is articulated: Thou Shalt Kill; and the papal response, according to The Deputy, is complacency...[in conformity with] the actual Pius XII [who] wanted the Vatican to be perceived as neutral during the Second World War" (Whitfield, 2010 pp 156-159).
Time: 1940s. Place: Germany, Italy.
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Lieutenant and medical officer in the Schutzstaffel (SS, Protective Squadron), Kurt Gerstein informs the papal nuncio about Jews being killed in great numbers in Poland, Belzec, and Treblinka, but he turns away and suggests that he tell Adolf Hitler of this matter. Gerstein next informs German colleagues that the nature of the gas in the death chambers must be changed because the generators break down and that some die too slowly, after an hour. In gratitude for services rendered by his Jewish servant, Jacobson, Gerstein arranges for him to obtain a passport from a Jesuit, Riccardo Fontana. Count Fontana, the Jesuit's father, has just been admitted to the Order of Jesus-Christ and disapproves of his son's aggressive tactics to convince Pope Pius XII of the need to denounce openly the massacre of the Jews, all the more so on hearing him speak to a cardinal about this matter. The cardinal argues that Hitler must not be beaten by the atheist Soviet State but by England and America and that in any case the mass murders should soon stop. In Rome, the Jewish Luccani family prepare to hide in a Roman convent, but are prevented by the Germans. Gerstein and Riccardo together seek to convince the cardinal about the need to denounce Hitler, but he counters that they already do enough. "We even give shelter to non-baptized Jews," he specifies. Gerstein and Riccardo then try to convince a priest involved at the Vatican Radio to commit to their views, but are unsuccessful as well. Meanwhile, Commandant Salzer is ordered to round up more Jews in Rome. In view of Luccani's military service, Salzer assures him that he will be sent to Theresienstadt, where chances of survival are better than most. Count Fontana returns to the cardinal to say that Riccardo intends to follow the Jews to a concentration camp, which he considers foolish and liable to compromise the Roman church. He is especially worried about the vacuum in Italy created by Mussolini's fall, a man who had always countered the communists. Pope Pius XII reiterates his policy in this matter, on one hand paying large sums to shelter Jews in Rome but, on the other, refusing to defy Hitler openly. "Only Hitler, dear count, now defends Europe," he says. Without a strong German state, Eastern Europe is liable to be taken over by the Soviets. Riccardo is incensed, giving the example of the Danish king as the guide to follow, but no argument convinces the pope to change his strategy. Riccardo makes good on his threat and follows a contingent of Jews at Auschwitz, where Gerstein finds him together with Jacobson. When Gerstein requests Riccardo to help Jacobson a second time, he dons a priest's robe but is recognized as an impostor and shot to death. Riccardo is also shot, then thrown into a fire while still alive.
Peter Weiss (1916-1982) wrote "Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade" (The persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade, generally known as Marat/Sade, 1963), based on historical events relating to the arrest of the marquis the Sade in Charenton prison.
Marat/Sade represents “an audience of 13 July 1808...watching...1793 events...Marat defends the...view that the world can be [improved] only if we impose a rational order by force...The marquis de Sade’s standpoint...is that of the extreme individualist...When the revolution came and de Sade...was made a judge…[he was] unable to impose the death sentence [and so] put into an asylum...Thus, we have the paradox that the revolutionary who wants to do good ends up as the creator of terror and mass executions, while the sadist, who is prepared to indulge the cruel aggressive impulses of his subconscious, emerges as the mild and non-violent skeptic who doubts the efficacy of any action and refuses to raise a finger and harm others” (Esslin, 1970 pp 184-186). "The background to the Charenton setting...is historically accurate...Coulmier was the director at the time...He did allow Sade to stage plays in the asylum, using the prisoners as cast, and the plays were sometimes Sade's own. Furthermore, Coulmier used to invite members of Parisian society to come and watch these performances...Such dramas at Charenton were put on in the belief that the patients would be helped towards a cure by learning to play out certain roles and express otherwise inhibited feelings to the full, just as in the modern therapeutic use of psycho-dramas...The play, then, shows us how Charlotte Corday, a young girl from Caen, is disturbed by the course of bloodshed the Revolution is taking under the extremist left-wing rule of the Jacobins. She decides to take things into her own hands and assassinates Marat...However, the interruptions of Sade's play by characters from the outer play, people who are present at or taking part in the Charenton production, are not as irrelevant as they might at first seem to be. In fact a closer examination of the play reveals a number of important parallels between the world Sade is depicting in his play and the world of his audience. At a number of points in the play, we are made conscious of the similarities between Marat and Napoleon...Coulmier speaks up for Napoleon whenever Sade's play begins to forget the differences that are supposed to exist between Marat's time and Napoleon's...Sade clearly shows that the Napoleonic era is restorative...Many of the characters in the play are not mad, so all the world is not a mad-house, as the setting might at first suggest. There is a definite distinction in Sade's play between the rulers of people, who are played by the sane, and the masses who are played by lunatics. Sade was not imprisoned in Charenton because he was insane, but because of his sexual excesses. The Napoleon figure in the play, Coulmier, is also not insane, and even Marat, as has been noted, does not strike us as too lacking in self-control, as he is played by someone with a similar illness of the skin to Marat's, so the discrepancy between lunatic actor and sane role does not appear. The leaders, it is suggested by this casting, are saner than the masses, which is a comment on the freedom being denied to the latter...Sade's play is staged, not just in the asylum, but in the bath-house, [reflecting] analogies between the bath that Marat sits in...linked with the idea of purification involved in the therapeutics of psycho-drama" (White, 1968 pp 437-446).
Marat/Sade “remains a play of authentic power, a play which very much disturbs us and which by its very nature does not offer us ready answers…If Marat proposes a thesis, Sade disposes with equal sanity. It is the world which is mad and hypocritical, not the lunatics who are the misfits of man’s own irrationality” (Lumley, 1967 p 251). “Sade’s drama incites rather than alleviates the rebellious urges of the inmates...Whispering Corday’s name as an incantation to revolt, for example, the patients also recites chants of ‘Freedom, freedom, freedom!’...Sade has interpolated the herald’s disclaimers, his ironic asides and protestations, which are meant to deceive the asylum officials...Marat, the advocate of mass freedom...[engages] Sade, the advocate of individual freedom“ (Rosen, 1983 pp 102-104). “Sade is the dark poet of individuality, of the extremity of personal hunger and self-validation, while Marat incarnates the social will, the desire for political regeneration” (Gilman, 1971 p 168). "Weiss' Sade...has helped to overthrow the old order through his subversive writings, although he is no active politician. He hated the corrupt pre-Revolutionary establishment as he now hates the corrupt Empire as he has long hated himself for belonging to a permanently corrupt society. The excesses he has advocated are a mixture of social protest, self-punishment, self-indulgence...Sade's disenchanted view of revolution is linked with his belief...that all men are inescapably determined psychological impulses rooted in physical urges...Sade regards cupidity, aggression, and frustration as the essence of the human condition; it is therefore understandable that, denouncing all ideologies as self-deception, he should turn to ruthless individualism...His cynicism, however, is accompanied by feelings of guilt and confusion, displayed prominently around the familiar alliance of sadism and masochism in the episode in which Corday whips him while he remembers the horrors of the revolution and his own continuing dilemma" (Löb, 1981 pp 385-387).
"Everything is arranged to assault the spectator. Weiss attempts to deliver an experience of unheard-of violence, of frantic aggression which is similar to the impact of 'happenings'. This gives some justification to the critics who pigeonhole Weiss' play as simply Theatre of Cruelty. But if we look at it more closely, we find that the intolerable threat of ungoverned folly unfurls around a center which is paradoxically becalmed, finally breaking against the detached gaze of those privileged voyeurs who are the spectators...Surrounded by madmen, Marat and Sade hold forth like gentlemen in a salon...Coulmier does not hesitate to risk the double boldness of inviting a select public to the therapeutic productions put on in his establishment and to entrust their staging to the pernicious Marquis de Sade whom he treats with a courtesy not devoid of complicity. There are, of course, times when his indignation gets the better of him: when Sade retains incendiary passages he had promised to cut. Most often these passages are the protests of the people, frustrated in their revolutionary aspirations and goals by a bourgeoisie which finds its triumph not only in Napoleon's battles but also in the theatre where it comes to watch Sade's productions...Here we have the paradox of freedom in Weiss' play. The unbounded freedom of Sade's imagination and the assumed freedom of Marat the revolutionary have no great weight when confronted with necessity (Bonjour, 1965, pp 114-116).
"The nihilist Sade is incapable of commiting himself to anything outside himself, and it is precisely the ability to commit oneself to action in the world that Sade both despises and envies in Marat...Sade subtly plants in the fertile field of the paranoiac's mind the suspicion that the assassination will be real, that the patient playing Corday will actually be permitted to stab him. In other words, Sade is testing the depth of the patient/actor's commitment, posing a challenge to the paranoiac: do you believe in Marat's ideals to the point that you are willing to die for them?...It is only during the course of the performance that he commits himself totally to his character, as a free choice, convinced that that commitment will result in his death...Sade gives an image of Corday as an idealist...out of touch with reality. The patient's repressed sexuality betrays itself in the sexual excitement with which she approaches the assassination, to demonstrate Sade's belief that violence is an inevitable expression of the instinct and that all attempts to describe it as politically motivated are mere rationalizations...Yet Sade's attempt to remake the world into his image through imagination is, as he knows ultimately, as futile as Marat's attempt to change it through political action. The character whom he has sought to crush eludes his creator by transcending himself, by making the sacrifice of self of which Sade is incapable. Plunged into a world and a role of Sade's creation, the paranoiac/actor makes the role his own and gives it his own meaning; he presents an image of Marat's heroism that Sade had secretly sought to discredit. He gives a living demonstration of Marat's position: 'in the vast indifference I invent a meaning' (Dieckman, 1978 pp 56-62).
Time: 1808. Place: Paris, France.
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To pass the time while held in a madhouse, the marquis de Sade presents a play on the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat in 1793, a key figure in the reign of terror following the French revolution. In the play, Marat exhorts the people to continue the revolution, emphasizing that priests are on the side of power, not theirs. The director of the establishment, Coulmier, objects to this part. With the advent of the revolution, a greater number of people are free to accumulate riches. "And we find where that leads," Marat continues, "everyone free to fight fraternally and with equal arms, every man his own millionaire, man against man, group against group, in happy mutual robbery." His exhortations are approved by the radical Jacques Roux, excellent at rabble-rousing, demanding the public ownership of shops, the transformation of churches into schools, with Marat as the leader of their cause. However, the marquis de Sade does not believe in causes. In self-disgust, he requests to be whipped. Resuming his political views, Marat points out further that the government cuts deals with foreign invaders to undermine the revolution. Coulmier once more objects to presenting such views, pointing out that the emperor has rehabilitated these persons. The marquis dismisses Marat's criticisms of society and maintains that "there is nothing beyond the body". Afraid and dismayed at the growing reign of terror and his leading role in it, Charlotte Corday visits Marat. The marquis encourages Marat to gaze on this woman. "Her breast naked under the thin cloth and perhaps carrying a knife, to intensify the love-play," he adds. The marquis interrupts her as she is about to strike, so that Marat may hear of the events following his death. With both arms raised, she then plunges the knife in Marat's breast, at which the patients scream as he lays dying in his bath.
Heiner Müller (1929-1995) is the main dramatist in late 20th century East Germany, in particular for "Die Umsiedlerin" (The resettled woman, 1961), concerned with the agrarian reform ("Bodenreform") in East Germany, whereby land belonging to former Nazis and war criminals was expropriated and converted into collective people's farms ("Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft") among peasant farmers, agricultural laborers, and refugees.
The title of "The resettled woman" refers to “people of German ancestry from the Eastern regions of the former Reich forcibly resettled in East and West Germany after the war because they were no longer wanted in what were supposed to be the socialist brother-lands...The background of ‘The resettled woman’ is the two major East German land reforms of 1945 and 1960. The first of these, administered by the Soviets, dispossessed all farmers whom owned more than 100 hectares (247 acres)...and divided their land in lots of 5 hectares...The second reform...completed the process of full collectivization...Most of the play takes place between 1946 and 1950, when the contradictions of the new agriculture policy were most obvious...It soon became clear to the newly enfranchised that the 5-hectare farms could never be economically self-sufficient. The state applied gradual pressure to band them together as collective farms...all the while denying that it was doing so, which only made the farmers distrust the government as it was trying to win their sympathy. The play opens in 1946. Bürgermeister Beutler, until recently a lowly dairyman, is conducting unfelt and ridiculously brief ceremonies to distribute the small land parcels...Inasmuch as a central story exists, it involves the struggles of the new farmers to survive without succumbing to this century-old form of enslavement by the likes of Rammler. Flint and other convinced socialists struggle to overcome cynicism about the new system and the entrenched beliefs about the need for ruthless self-interest. Hope enters the play in the form of two tractors, gifts of the Soviet Union...but disappointment soon follows when the boorish tractorists...turn out to be former Nazis who work for bribes of food, sex, and money. Beutler...is a creature so habituated to opportunistic dissembling and bootlicking that he cannot understand privilege and position in any other terms...Fondrak who abuses his pregnant companion, Niet...refuses to work, and responds with a sort of homespun, alcoholic nihilism to Flint’s repeated attempts to rekindle his self-respect by offering him the dead Ketzer’s farm” (Kalb, 1998 pp 78-82).
"The resettled woman"
Time: 1946-1960. Place: East Germany.
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During the agrarian reform, Ketzer, a farmer, is fined for not producing enough milk, as he had to sell his cow to buy a horse. In view of his inability to pay, he is threatened to have his property seized by the state. The burgomaster, Beutler, approves and supports Treiber, another farmer, in his attempts at recuperating the money Ketzer owes him. When Treiber is about to take away his horse, Ketzer stabs it to death. In despair over his financial troubles, Ketzer then hangs himself. Later, a fugitive from another region and former burgomaster on the run for his political opinions pleads Beutler to help him hide from the authorities. Beutler's friend, Rammler, agrees to hide the fugitive in exchange for money, as they discover the man made off with the contents of the treasury. Beutler accepts cash beneath the table from both Rammler and the fugitive. Despite his proffered help, Beutler denounces the fugitive to the police. In a town meeting, Senkpiel insinuates his burgomaster's treachery in regard to the arrested fugitive. In response, Beutler threatens him with deportation to Siberia should he say another word on this subject, maligning a representative of the state being equivalent, in his mind, to maligning the state, an act of treason worthy of the severest penalties. Flint, a party member and organizer, quarrels with his wife, as a result of being frustrated at her lack of knowledge, especially concerning political matters, while she is frustrated at his philandering, calling him a "chaser of women's red skirts". She leaves while he is still talking. When a mine dating from World War II explodes in a labored field, a tractor-worker is injured. To help bind his wounds, Niet, a resettled woman from Poland, tears out a peasant woman's sheet. The peasant woman reminds her that the sheet will be deducted from her salary. In another region, a peasant trips over a drunk tractor-worker. The peasant complains of this man to the authorities. "He who plows my daughter should not leave my field uncultivated," he declares. The tractor-worker responds by asking him which one among the photographs of women he carries in his pocket is his daughter, he having "many mares in his stable". After being pointed out who she is, the tractor-worker demands money if the peasant wants his field plowed before that of others. The peasant gives him some. He then asks for money if he wants the plowing done in straight lines. The peasant gives him more. When his daughter shows up, the peasant recommends her to open her blouse to please the tractor-worker. Meanwhile, Flint attempts to persuade a lazy good-for-nothing beer-guzzler, Fondrak, Niet's lover, to take over Ketzer's field following his suicide. Fondrak refuses because working makes beer taste less appealing. When a pastor leaves his motorcycle behind for Fondrak to repair, he does so but then sells it to a collector of production quotas so that the latter can escape to the western world. A district counsellor arrives to examine the town organization. He dismisses Beutler as burgomaster for ignoring the people's criticisms. Beutler is then pursued by the police for illegal activities while in office. The district counsellor offers the job to Flint, leery about accepting it but attempting once again to have Fondrak accept Ketzer's property, who, pushed by Niet, finally accepts, then leaves her with the business on her hands. Treiber, an important property-owner, is pressured by the authorities to submit to the agrarian reform. He is so disgusted with the changes that he leaves to hang himself, but bungles the job. Thinking him dead, his wife faints. When she revives in a confused state and sees her husband again, she wonders whether they are in heaven or hell, at which Treiber moves his arms as if ready to fly to heaven. A worker comments laconically that Treiber is still here because "heaven was full up".
Franz Xaver Kroetz
Franz Xaver Kroetz (1946-?) reached prominence with "Männersache" (Men's business, 1970), a domestic drama about a couple in conflict throughout.
"The theme of the earlier Kroetz plays is the social deformation of marginal groups in society. The most well-known of these plays are Game Crossing (1968), Men's Business (1970), and Farmyard (1971). The characters of these plays are helplessly at the mercy of a hostile environment precisely because of their inability to articulate their problems. The resigned silence of the characters on stage is Kroetz's essential theatrical device" (Toteborg and Denlinger, 1978 p 18).
Time: 1970s. Place: Germany.
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Otto, a seasonal worker in metal works, and Martha, owner of a butcher's shop, are eating caviar as a live-in couple. When Martha speaks of her writing a journal about their relationship, she notices Otto taking out a pornographic magazine. "Men's business," he announces, to shut her up. Later, while she takes her clothes off, Otto becomes bothered by her dog's whining, goes outside, and beats it till it goes quiet, then comes back to make love. "You're not pretty, but you like it," he comments approvingly. On another occasion, he grumbles yet again about the whining dog. "He licks you below the skirt when you turn your back to him," he accuses, but she denies any improper behavior. One day, to please him, Martha announces she has killed it, a lie, Otto discovers, after finding the dog inside a cold room. When Otto later arrives with a rifle, ostensibly to kill the dog, she goes out and shoots it herself. Another thing bothers him about his girlfriend: how slow she is before being sexually aroused. "It was better with the dog from behind," he accuses. He further adds that, in his view, the probable reason she is more slowly aroused by him is because in general she refuses to submit to him. "You have no respect for me. That's how it is," she counters. Exasperated, she takes up his low-caliber rifle and shoots in his direction, but misses him. He challenges her to try again. In her next attempt, she hits him on the shoulder. "Now it's your turn," she says. He hits her with the first shot, then hands the rifle back to her. After missing twice, she manages to hit him again. Otto hits back, as does she, but when he successfully hits his target again, the blow is too much for her and she falls. "Do you give up?" crows Otto over her prone body.
Fritz Hochwälder (1911-1986) was the main Austrian-born dramatist of the period with "Lazaretti oder der Säbeltiger" (Lazaretti or the sabre-toothed tiger, 1973). Hochwälder also wrote "The public prosecutor" (1949), "The sacred experiment" (1943), and "The raspberry picker" (1965). "The public prosecutor" concerns Theresa Tallien's revenge on a public prosecutor during the Reign of Terror in late 18th century France. "The sacred experiment" concerns the forced abandonment of the Jesuit settlement in Paraguay by Spanish noblemen jealous of their countrymen's success. "The raspberry picker" concerns conflicts arising among villagers because they misidentify a Nazi murderer known for having killed thousands of men who picked raspberries in a field.
In "Lazaretti or the sabre-toothed tiger", Hochwälder convincingly warns that man and society are capable of further atrocities" (Schmitt, 1978 p 58). "In Lazaretti or the Sabre-toothed Tiger, Hochwälder feels that the survival of the human being, indeed, the survival of humanity in general is the greatest danger in the world today. The threat takes two forms: 1) the loss of humanness by the sacrifice of soul and of conscience, which Hochwälder considers the true characteristic of being human, and 2) the possible destruction of the world itself. Just as the extinction of the sabre-toothed tiger resulted from the very endowment intended to ensure its preservation, man's brain may prove to be his undoing" (Daviau, 1985 p 34).
"Lazaretti or the sabre-toothed tiger"
Time: 1970s. Place: Near Lake Lugano, Switzerland.
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Professor Camenisch has been asked to write a book for a prestigious printing house but has been unable to provide it. His secretary, Rouzha, is sought after by the local psychiatrist, Dr Fliess, but is unable to convince her to quit her job and follow him to a first-class sanatorium near Lausanne, because she takes pity on her boss, specifying that he would be lost without her help. Camenisch receives the visit of a boyhood friend, Lazaretti, on the run because of persecution at the hands of men who have heard rumors about his latest manuscript, entiled "On the death of persecutors", exposing evil-doers past and present. Camenisch agrees to offer him a room in his villa. Lazaretti specifies that he has been alone since his secretary, Peltzer, obtained a rich inheritance at his father's death. Camenisch also agrees to keep Lazaretti's manuscript secure in his safe. Fearing that his friend suffers from paranoia, Camenisch orders his servant, Damboritz, to verify whether potential persecutors have been seen around town. He specifies to Fliess that in Lazaretti's last published book, "Total Aggression", an appeal is made to murder evil-doers, a subject continued in the current manuscript. He invites to dinner Fliess and Lazaretti along with his neighbor, Galgotsky, whereby Lazaretti is goaded into explaining his views. "My plan is simple: the establishment and organization of an international secret society on the model of the Jesuits, Freemasons, and similar associations. What ensues from this is something new: a conspiracy of young idealists from all lands, peoples, races, with the goal to set to work wherever law and humanity are threatened." He jumps up in alarm on discovering that Fliess is already informed about the manuscript and requests his host to give it back at five o'clock in the train station. Convinced that Lazaretto is mentally ill, Fliess proposes to Camenisch that they meet his friend at the train station so that he can convince him to follow him at the local psychiatric institute. Fliess also requests the manuscript for his records, which Camenisch reluctantly yields with the promise that it will be returned to him at 4:30. Camenisch next learns from Damboritz that Lazaretti's suspicions appear verified, since a group of four men have been following and persecuting him. Camenisch doubts this until receiving the visit of Peltzer, who informs him that he indeed intends on persecuting a man he considers a potential criminal. It is 4:30 and Fliess has not arrived. Sensing that he and Camenisch intend to cheat each other since neither informed the other that Lazaretti is armed, Rouzha leaves both. Unexpectedly, Lazaretti arrives to retrieve his manuscript, which Camenisch is unable to provide. However, Camenisch assures him that, based on Damboritz's spying activities, Peltzer has changed his mind and gone away. But Lazaretti does not believe him, raising his revolver to shoot him until disarmed by Damboritz. When Fliess arrives, Lazaretti submits to him. An overjoyed Camenisch takes up the manuscript to send it to his publisher as if it were his own.