Die Ratten- Gerhart Hauptmann

Oh geez. I am really bad at updating this blog. But I guess it’s because it’s the most challenging one since I try to post more than just observations, I have to try and put some analysis in these posts…

Sigh.

At any rate, I’m trying to take advantage of the UniFreiKarte while I can, so I went out on a weeknight and saw Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Ratten. Again, this was in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus and again, this was a brilliant performance.

The obligatory picture of a rat taken off deathandtaz]xes.com

It was very different than Wassa Schelesnowa or any other play I’ve ever seen. It was just as much entertainment as it was a commentary on theater theory. I struggled to keep up with the events showing on stage while trying to understand what Hauptmann (and the director, Karin Henkel) was telling me about early twentieth century life, the naturalist literary movement, and the role of theater in our lives.

This literary commentary was perhaps given special significance because of the hasty stepping in of one of the roles. Due to an injury one of the actors (who played a double-role) experienced during rehearsals the morning of the performance, two roles were left unplayed, with little time to find a replacement. Yet, the Schauspielhaus managed to find a volunteer actor who had played one of the roles before, but had little experience with the other one. But the show went on, even though the actor played on book, that is, he had the script in his hand. The audience was asked by Frau Henkel to excuse this, and of course I think all of us were relieved to have the show go on. In fact, the young actor who stepped in was from the Thalia theater in Hamburg, and many theater-goers seemed to recognize him and cheered him on.

I initially thought it would annoy me that there was an actor on book, but when the play was in progress and I realized that there was play-within-a-play going on, and even scenes during which the character had the script on hand, I learned to go with it. The acting overall was superb, and they all worked really well together.

I could write a lot about this play, but I’m going to restrict myself to one observation and analysis: the use of Macbeth versus Schiller’s The Bride of Messina. In the third act of the 5 act tragedy (the play followed the traditional Aristotelian model in many ways, while breaking the rules in many others [working class protagonists and breaking of walls, for starters]), the director of the theater (in the play) is training a few pupils on how to act, and they are rehearsing The Bride of Messina. However, in the Henkel inzinierung, the actors in the first act refer to Macbeth and the reference is continued through Acts 3, 4 and 5. I was especially surprised by the use of English throughout the play and wonder why an English Elizabethan play was preferred over a German Weimar Classic one. My limited conclusion has to do with the subtle commentary on gender and power within gender. Much of the play has to do with the fatal “flaw” of the protagonist, her desire for a child. This desire is the Trieb that drives her actions, but her actions don’t really make sense in a traditionally Christian moral world and that may have to do with the fact that this moral world doesn’t really exist. I think Macbeth works in a similar way and perhaps that’s why it was chosen. It may also be more recognized by contemporary audiences. I personally only recently learned about Schiller’s Braut von Messina and it’s two quarreling brothers, and maybe the stuff happening in the play (an attempt to combine antique and modern drama) was not the angle Henkel wanted her audience to focus on.

At any rate, again the stage design was impressive. But really, really impressive was the acting. It included actors fluent in the spitting Berliner dialect that took a while to get used to and a lead actress willing to slap herself (hard) in the face over an over. It was shocking in authenticity and violence. I  am getting spoiled by being able to attend these plays for free! I don’t know how I’m going to feed my drama hunger (which has grown since I’m taking a course on Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and actually understand some of the literary work being done) once my FreiKarte expires…

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it's so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg's main station.

The Hauptbahnhof by night. Maybe one of the reasons I like the Deutsche Schauspielhaus so much is because it’s so easy to get to! Right across the street from Hamburg’s main station.

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