By Werner Schwab
Translated by Michael Mitchell
Directed by Yasen Peyankov
At Trap Door Theatre
Having a soul means laughing while watching people die
Werner Schwab, with his 1991 play about life in a small Austrian town, has created a very difficult, very real, very European piece of theatre. The characters do not speak exactly as normal people would; it is a kind of artificial speech that furthers the play’s goals of shocking us out of our day-to-day boredom and non-introspection and forcing us to look inwards, consider ourselves, consider society, consider what we believe the world should be like.
It is a decidedly Germanic piece of theatre. Brotsünde plays a large role. Roughly translatable as “bread-sin,” it’s to this day a part of culture in the German-speaking world. In the Middle Ages, it was a sin to waste any bread at all: it was the life-force, the essential food source; it was passed out at Cathedrals, and those caught taking more than their fair share could lose a hand. If bread had gotten stale, it was to be used for breadcrumbs. It was not, at any cost, to be thrown out. Oddly enough, this concept is very important in OVERWEIGHT…. The play consists of a cross-section of Austrian society: there are the traditionalists, Piggy and Bunny (Andy Hager and Beata Pilch), who value bread highly and love order and rules and tradition in society; there is the tame intellectual, Jürgen (Kirk Anderson), who wants there to be true progress in society, wants people to stop fighting and hating each other; there is the Bar Owner (Dado) who is a fairly standard incarnation of Austria’s bourgeois – she wants people to be polite and not fight in her establishment, and is also romantically involved with more than one man on stage; there is the miserable, angry, violent prol, Karlo (H.B. Ward), whose life’s philosophy has a great deal to do with hitting things and meat and flesh; Herta (Nicole Wiesner), his battered woman, is something of an enigma, at once above the grime and yet below it all; Pussy (Carolyn Hoerdemann), whose name is slang for exactly what you think it’s for, is a product of long abuse at the darker hands of Austrian society, and throws up her skirt for pittance to be hurled into the jukebox; then there is The Beautiful Couple (Géraldine Dulex and David A. Holcombe), the foreign, the young, the alive, the rich, the happy.
And the play consists of the interactions of these different people, butting heads and trying to decide what kind of people they are and what kind of society they live in and what hope there is for any of them. This tavern is a place where everyone is damned and no one wants to accept it. It is a tavern where strangers are strange, where foreigners are foreign – where otherness is feared and despised. It is a tavern where humans eat their gods. Moreover, it is beautiful, horrid, confusing, glorious theatre.
Reviewed on 10.6.11
For full show information, visit TheatreInChicago.
At Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave., Chicago; for tickets call 773-384-0494 or visit www.trapdoortheatre.com; tickets $20-25; Thursday-Saturday at 8pm; through Nov. 12.