When Britney Arrives at Brecht’s House

BERLIN — In August, the Berliner Ensemble kicked off its season with a bang: a new production “The Threepenny OperaIt was both an artistic triumph and a blockbuster.

Founded by Bertolt Brecht in what was once East Berlin, the theater has been on a winning streak ever since. That’s a pretty good comeback for a company that until recently was considered docile or even old-fashioned.

As of this season, however, the Berliner Ensemble is perhaps the city’s most consistently exciting theatre, a repertoire of repertoire staples and new works by outstanding actors and innovative directors. In a single weekend this month, I attended three new productions that were very different from the 20 premieres scheduled for the season.

Along with the newThe Threepenny Opera” The clearest indication of the course taken by the theater is Christina Tscharyiski’s “Brecht”Mom,A Lehrstück or “learning game” in 1932, in which the playwright aimed to awaken both class consciousness and critical thinking about workers’ struggles.

Tscharyiski extends Brecht’s discussion of the exploitation and dehumanization of the proletariat by adding new texts that boldly carry the work into the 21st century. Six actors playing various roles suggest capitalism’s relationship to feminism and digitalisation. If that sounds pedantic, I can assure you it is anything but.

The production is subtitled “Instructions for a Revolution” and the agile actors deliver their speeches with a manifesto-like enthusiasm. Still, there’s nothing dry or solemn in the production’s introduction to theory, especially with the backing of a rock band performing Hanns Eisler’s original music. There’s nothing grim about the dazzling production, thanks to Janina Audick’s cheeky and colorful set, but a few well-chosen cues and props, and Verena Dengler’s eclectic patchwork costumes.

Tscharyiski, a young Austrian director, is the latest in a series of creative artists invited to form an “institution” by Oliver Reese, artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble.new Brecht tradition at home“As he told The New York Times in August. In recent seasons, Reese has enlisted a number of progressive theatrical producers to help remove the mothballs from a series of plays that have long had an influential tradition of staging in Brecht’s home.

This is Reese’s fifth season running Brecht’s former home, and the first season where the Berliner Ensemble, led by him, has truly gained definition and focus.

It’s beyond appealing to diverse young directors like Tscharyiski, who also directed a surprisingly wild production of Elfriede Jelinek.Schwarzwasser” at the beginning of this season and Ersan Mondtag, who applied his neo-Expressionist brilliance to his works Wagner and Brecht, the Berliner Ensemble’s current success largely depends on its group of 27 full-time players, one of the world’s greatest players. Germany’s theater system. Reese made a number of casting choices from the company’s acting reserve. Of the six actors who played in “The Mother,” four belonged to the company’s cast. The next evening, I encountered a dozen more house actors in Mateja Koleznik’s moody atmospheric production. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” that no less than a dozen ensemble members are part of a large cast.

Miller’s McCarthy allegory of the witch hunt is played out on a fixed set whose wood paneling and green tiles resemble the hallway of a Soviet-era school gym or courthouse. In a program note, Koleznik sets the stage for the play in Salem, Mass., in 1692. or America in 1953, but rather as a “retro dystopia of the future” reminiscent of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

His production achieves an air of gothic menace quite effectively, thanks in large part to Raimund Orfeo Voigt’s handsome but limiting set, Ana Savic-Gecan’s serious costumes, and Rainer Casper’s chiaroscuro lighting. Then there is Michael Gumpinger’s ominous music sung by a choir of five women known as the “daughters of Salem.” Dressed in green schoolgirl uniforms, they sway in chairs, balance upside down, and hang from doors like acrobatic Balthus models.

However, the production, which effectively created the atmosphere of horror, has little to say about the game itself. Trapped in the prison of this claustrophobic production, many of the actors seem to be on their own when it comes to embodying Miller’s characters and their difficult relationships. Still, two ensemble members of different generations steal the show.

Bettina Hoppe, 47, makes a tightly wound Elisabeth Proctor. With humility and restraint, he breathes a believable life into his pious character with fortitude and heartache, the emotional core of the production. As her rival, Abigail Williams, the former maid of the Proctors and the ringleader of the “fascinated” girls, a new ensemble member, 27-year-old Lili Epply, deftly transitions between the character’s various states – girlish, seductive, defensive, arrogant, and intoxicated power – her works without breaking.

After the expansive panorama of “The Crucible,” with 21 people on stage, the focus has narrowed again for the weekend’s most unexpected entry: “It’s Britney, Bitch” A one-man show directed by Lena Brasch for actress Sina Martens, which is both an homage to the pop star and a plea that we take Spears seriously. As a result, Marten presents the singer as a troublemaker rather than a victim: “’Toxic’ was long before your ‘toxic masculinity’”, he has a catchy line.

Alone on stage at Werkraum, the company’s small annex, Martens sings, dances and even crawls through the 70-minute evening, donning a long blonde Barbie wig or bald hat to get in and out of the pop star’s skin. The dialogue is drawn from Spears’ testimonies in court and newly written texts by four women writers.

One is a fictitious letter – in a language reminiscent of Kafka’s “Letter to Her Father” – to Jamie Spears, who during a 14-year conservatory controlled much of her daughter’s personal and professional life. this was resolved last November. Other times, Martens grapples with Spears’ double role as a female empowerment model and a symbol of a vulgar sexist culture, reflecting the news media’s obsession with breasts and her virginity. In a single monologue, Martens wonders, why is it so hard for society to take women’s suffering seriously? “Janis Joplin didn’t die of melancholy,” she says. “Janis Joplin died of heroin.”

Interrupting the entire conversation are arrangements of several Spears hits that, in unrecognized versions of Friederike Bernhardt, turn pop chartbusters into somber cabaret ballads. At the end of the night, Martens shows up in a red jumpsuit like Spears famously wore. music video For “Oops… I Did It Again” for dancing the original choreography while lip-syncing to the pop anthem. The obligatory vaccinated audience applauded Martens, sitting shoulder to shoulder through their obligatory masks. Like the Berliner Ensemble’s other recent productions I’ve participated in, “It’s Britney, Bitch” has sold out: not an average success in normal times, but somewhat miraculous during the recent surge of the pandemic.

Die Mutter — Anleitung für eine Revolution. Directed by Christina Tscharyiski. Berlin Community. until February 11th.
hexenjagd. Productions directed by Mateja Koleznik. Berlin Community. in the repertoire.
This is Britney, bitch. Productions directed by Lena Brasch. Berlin Community. until February 27.

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