Sergio Lo Gatto[1]

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Fatzer Fragment/Getting Lost Faster, by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Fabrizio Arcuri.

Production Teatro Stabile di Torino, Turin and Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, Berlin.

Kill Your Darlings! [The Streets of Berladelphia], by René Pollesch, directed by René Pollesch.

Production Teatro Stabile di Torino, Turin and Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, Berlin.

A certain theatrical play is not always suitable for every audience.

The level of awareness reached by the spectators about the very fact of theatre-going strongly depends on where they live. Due to economic situation and to dramatic literacy, it is most probably a matter of environment.

If the question is whether a certain play can be proved to be relevant (more than simply suitable) in one country as well as in another, it goes without saying that an answer can be infinitely more tricky and hard to find. Contrary to what one might think, this “difficulty of placement” into a global audience’s imagery can be even more evident when the play deals not with private and intimate issues, but with those weightier topics which every country is forced to face.

Fatzer Fragment, from left: Enrico Gaido, Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteos Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas, Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio.
Fatzer Fragment, from left: Enrico Gaido, Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteos Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas, Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio.

This short preamble brings up a consideration about how complex it is to be a critic of a trans-national production in contemporary Europe and how that very experience can challenge a critic’s analysis. My example is a joint project launched in February 2012 by the Teatro Stabile di Torino (the main state-subsidized theatre in Turin, Italy) and Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg Platz in Berlin, Germany around two separated stagings of Bertolt Brecht’s Fatzer Fragment (Italian version directed by Fabrizio Arcuri and German version by René Pollesch).

Fatzer Fragment, from left: Matteo Angius (in video), Beppe Minelli, Matteo Angius, Francesca Mazza, Werner Waas.
Fatzer Fragment, from left: Matteo Angius (in video), Beppe Minelli, Matteo Angius, Francesca Mazza, Werner Waas.

We are in the presence of a sort of “exploded text”, a tome of notes compiled between 1926 and 1930; never published because never finished. At a time when Europe had not been completed, or even imagined yet, the latent vocation for democracy was already threatened by totalitarianism and economic interests. As a close observer of the reality and of the paths to social survival, Brecht seconded an uncontrollable urgency and seemed anxious to sketch a portrait of such a complex and contradictory moment. But the attempt to interpret facts and to predict effects using his familiar tool-set soon led him to cross the line of conventional writing. Fatzer Fragment is not only an unfinished play, it was conceived as a “hodge-podge” of self-consciousness (about playwriting and theatre but most likely about ethics and politics), a sort of cauldron in which thoughts and insights can boil and be kept warm.

Fatzer Fragment, from left: Enrico Gaido, Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteo Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas (sitting), Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio.
Fatzer Fragment, from left: Enrico Gaido, Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteo Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas (sitting), Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio.

Arcuri’s staging (titled Fatzer Fragment/Getting Lost Faster) chooses the most radical way: to go through the text in its 500-pages-long uncut version and to investigate the meaning of a comment made by Brecht himself: «this play cannot be staged».

In a post-apocalyptic landscape, survivors of a platoon are lost in the desert of a non-specific war, whose obscure reasons appear to originate in the fluctuating indexes of poverty: in this debauched and financially regulated social system, one must decide whose side to be on and whether the violence is a drifting or a landing. Moving out of a conventional narrative continuum, the lines are mixed-up with the stage directions and, rather than with dialogues, the actors deal with a streaming reasoning on the very dialogues. As a result, the whole first part of the story, turned into something abstract and allegorical, flows through a powerful net of non-characters, a collective consciousness able to move the narration to a higher and para-logical level. Like an ominous presage, this sort of Greek chorus seems to represent the allegory of Red Army Faction and Baader Meinhof Gang left-wing terror groups, in which the planned explosion of a macro-power generated cells of micro-tyranny.

Fatzer Fragment, from left: Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteos Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas (sitting), Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio, Luca Bergia (at the back).
Fatzer Fragment, from left: Alessandra Lappano, Francesca Mazza, Matteos Angius (down), Mariano Pirrello, Werner Waas (sitting), Beppe Minelli (down), Paolo Musio, Luca Bergia (at the back).

As well as other Arcuri’s works (mainly developed with his long-standing company Accademia degli Artefatti), evident is the obsession for technical reproduction (in Walter Benjamin’s conception) and the attempt to fragment the narrative levels: cameras shoot live videos; TV-screens and monitors transmit live close-up of the actors; a violent soundscape (guitars, drums and loops played live) offers sudden downfalls into an hypnotic mood; visible microphones operated on stage distort the messages, cooling the words down to freezing temperatures; impressive pyrotechnics displays, with bursts of flame and explosions, finally photograph the very image of a material and conceptual collapse.

Fatzer Fragment, the stage.
Fatzer Fragment, the stage.

The stage is strewn with material signals, with everliving objects whose sense is proclaimed by their own essentiality: every detail on stage is useful and used.

In the very first scene a real car dramatically explodes overturning and bursting into an inextinguishable fire; the stage design closes various settings in a system of three boxes rotating on a mechanical gear; every single action has its own utility, it digs an anti-logical path through a jungle of narrative materials which challenge their very mutual role. Every single line contains its own contradiction because it is discussed on stage by actors who seem not to be in character at all, in fact, but seem to challenge the very act of acting. They snatch the immunity out of spectators’ hands. This is possibly the most precise operation to perform on a Brecht’s play: only such a linguistic, visual and therefore semiotic experiment is able to give back the essence of such unpredictable and detonating dramaturgical device. Every single step of this (even too) intellectual discourse is taken avoiding any possible fluidity, rather pointing to be not fluid at all, with the pace of the dynamite explosion to demolish a building. Fatzer as an icon, as ahomo novus who has skipped too many evolutionary steps; it is a liquid, jelly-like dramatis persona, a paradigm suddenly suitable for any character; to the point that every actor will take turns playing that role.

The excessive length and Arcuri’s tendency to linger over his own scenic language slightly weigh on the complete enjoyment, whereas the text and its montage (sharply developed by dramaturge Magdalena Barile) would have sufficed to clarify most of the direction’s pitches.

René Pollesch chooses a completely opposite way. In his version, titled Kill Your Darlings, the only things he keeps from Brecht’s text are the letters which compose the name FATZER, printed in a “very German”fraktur font on a curtain used just once. Surrounded by a large group of athletes, acrobats and gymnasts but dramaturgically alone on stage, an actor spills on the audience a long and disjointed speech, illustrating a sort of love story between capitalism and individualism, in which the second is overwhelmed by the first.

Fabian Hinrichs and the rest of the actors as chorus in Kill your Darlings. © Thomas Aurin
Fabian Hinrichs and the rest of the actors as chorus in Kill your Darlings. © Thomas Aurin

The literary expression kill your darlings refers to the writer’s skill not to fall in love with his/her own good ideas, the eagerness to get rid of certain passages in support of the pace and the fluidity of the whole text. The common thread in this wordy and self-satisfied monologue is the allusion to «what’s missing», through which Pollesch wants to point out Brecht’s everlasting quest for “reconstructing the unreconstructable”, something which is already dead. This sort of obsession is here indeed taken to extremes by Brecht himself, perhaps unfinished because in fact impossible to finish. The irony used by Pollesch’s text in repeating the refrain «we could have surprised you, amazed you with special effects» invites the actor to affirm that a direct answer to certain questions, all in all, would not be bearable. Thus, as a distraction, come the grotesque, the nonsensical irony, the movements roughly and randomly choreographed on famous pop-rock tunes re-sung with new (and silly) lyrics; until a Dadaistic chaos takes control of endless acrobatic sequences and a group of actors slipping on a wet surface, wearing an octopus costume.

Fabian Hinrichs and the rest of the actors as chorus in Kill your Darlings. © Thomas Aurin
Fabian Hinrichs and the rest of the actors as chorus in Kill your Darlings. © Thomas Aurin
Fabian Hinrichs © Thomas Aurin
Fabian Hinrichs © Thomas Aurin

Looking at such completely different productions, though the lens of a trans-national spectatorship, perhaps a common focus emerges on the concept of failure, which is in fact strong in Brecht’s poetics. What the author seems to long for is a mirror able to properly reflect the human conscience and thus to offer a cure for its perversions. According to Pollesch, the solution might be the background noise: the squalid circus-like atmosphere puts on foreground those discarded fragments; in the chaotic magma of a chorus, the director confounds up the individuality, turning it into a bare individualism.

In Arcuri’s version the Nature itself drives us to raise a continuous and sterile conflict; the violence seen as a solution on one hand proves the animal roots of the mankind, on the other defines its specificity: the language. The impossibility of understanding each other and the sense of “misfitting” bring to the denial of comfort that in the tyranny and in the act of continuously comparing oneself with the neighbour reaches a sort of moral masturbation.


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[1] Sergio Lo Gatto has a degree in Theatre and Performing Arts from Rome University “La Sapienza”, where now he co-leads a permanent theatre criticism workshop. Member of the Italian Journalist Guild, he is a freelance writer and theatre critic for printed and online publications such as Teatro e Critica, Hystrio, Tanz and Plays International and a founder member of Italian Association “New Criticism” and of the international independent theatre critics observatory The WritingShop. www.teatroecritica.net

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