This is just a sort of placeholder post. I loved this production. But I have no idea how — let alone why — to write about it in English. Nestroy is the great undiscovered country of German dramatic literature; this is true even within the German-speaking world, as he’s rarely performed outside his native Austria, but as far as I know, the only play of his ever to be translated was Einen Jux will er sich machen, turned into a riotous farce by Tom Stoppard in the 1980s (On the Razzle). Nestroy is a remarkable playwright: a late Romantic comedian, his works, ostensibly farces and silly plays about fairies and magicians, are propelled by a viciously nihilistic undercurrent. Much of the Burgtheater’s history could be told in terms of which side of Nestroy’s dramatic persona the house’s productions chose to stress — whether they clung to the twee and cloying charming surface or embraced the unsettling implications of their nihilism. But since the playwright is so little known in the English speaking world, writing about Matthias Hartmann’s production of Lumpazivagabundus would require doing far more groundwork than I can. So, let me just say that this is a show that starts out by hugging Nestroy’s charming side and luring us into the deceptive safety of the play’s fantasy world only to pull the rug from its and our feet after the intermission, when things get nasty very quickly, and when all ways out of the nastiness appear false and naive fantasies of wish fulfilment. Key to all of this is Nicholas Ofczarek’s unbelievable performance as Knieriem, the traveling cobbler, a glorious drunk in the grasp of apocalyptic visions. It’s a physically overwhelming portrayal, utterly relentless, brutally jolly and viciously raw in its pain and vulnerability — Ofczark is a big guy, and an imposing stage presence, but he also lets us see Knieriem crumble, the sheer bulk of his body little more than a shell haunted by despair (and booze).

So: not a lot to say, except a qualified wow, and a faint hope that someone might try to do Nestroy justice in English at some point.

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