A gaggle of Hübchens. -- Photo: Thomas Aurin

A gaggle of Hübchens. — Photo: Thomas Aurin

(Off the cuff and short.)

My evening in the Volksbuehne: Frank Castorf directing The Master Builder.

4 hours of Ibsen. Well. 4 hours of Ibsen and a lot of other stuff. 4 hours of nine life-sized dolls of the former Volksbuehne star Henry Hübchen being thrown around on stage; 4 hours of actors walking in a sea of red plastic balls that had spilled from a window early on; 4 hours of Marc Hosemann as Solness taking a shower with his clothes on, pouring an entire plastic bottle of honey into his mouth and all over himself, lying in and on piles of Hübchen dolls, frying up an egg, ironing a dress (and its wearer), singing multiple ghastly-but-hilarious Freddy Quinn songs, being hoist into the fly, the very very tall fly of the Volksbuehne and down again; 4 hours of Kathi Angerer exploring the full range of her voice, from high-pitched whining to guttural screams, dancing and shimmying around on stage as if she were in fact Hilde Wangel’s age (and not 45), dropping in and out of a dozen different characters and riffs, swimming in a kitchen full of stuffed toys, racing through pages of Carl Schmitt (and somehow turning them into dialogue!), totally owning the stage whenever she feels like it, even when sitting in the front row, barely visible to anyone; 4 hours of Daniel Zillmann playing BOTH Ragnar Brovik and Aline Solness, squeezing his frankly enormous body into tight dress after tight dress, and somehow not being totally ridiculous all the time; 4 hours of actors playing non-stop with everything in sight, hurling each other around and into things, not taking any prisoners or avoiding any risks, making a total hash of Ibsen’s text (making fun of the text more than anything), turning the play into a show about the Volksbuehne and its artistic director, switching constantly between referring to themselves by their real names and by their characters’ names, paying no attention whatsoever to structure or narrative or logic, screaming a lot, forgetting their lines, getting into back-and-forth exchanges with prompter.

And 4 hours of actors and a director boring me out of my skull and enchanting me, over and over again: I don’t really understand how Frank Castorf does it, but here, without any camera work, without using the revolve, without too many technical fireworks, just plonking four actors into a shallow set that more or less fills the proscenium (and leaves the vast space behind it unused) and hitting the GO button, he’s done it again — and in a less destructive, less brutal fashion than in some other productions. I have no idea what any of it means, or really what the point of any of it is — “meaning” in any kind of simple sense is obviously not what it’s about. But I’m so very glad it exists.

I mean, where else does this sort of thing happen: the play’s coming to a close. Suddenly the entire set sinks into the stage floor, revealing the huge, HUGE, tall, deep Volksbuehne stage with its blindingly white cyclorama behind it. Before that backdrop, Hosemann climbs on top of the metal rails that sat on top of the set and now rise above the stage floor; in sharp black outline, he mimes climbing, he mimes and mimes, and then he falls to his death. And then a very large man in a very tight red dress (Zillmann as Aline) and a very petite woman in a sparkly dress and an absurdly large blonde afro wig (Jeana Paraschiva as Kaja) have a little dance around the entire stage, in front of that celestial cyc. And I wish it wouldn’t end, it’s so gorgeous and so irreducibly theatrical. And then Solness isn’t dead at all, and wakes up, and rises into the fly, and attaches a big banner that read “Crisis” from the grid, and comes down again; and Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is blasting from the speakers, very loudly, and the set rises again, and there’s the threat that it might all start over again, that 4 hours wasn’t enough. But it was.

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