Groß und Klein May 12th, ’12

In Austria we have Festival Season when – during Summer – most of the regular theatres are closing down but hordes of tourists are coming to see theatre. This year’s season started last night – and in Vienna with a real gem: Botho Strauß’ “Groß und Klein”. And we were able to bring the Australian production in – with the stunningly brilliant Cate Blanchett (who, I can now safely say, is gravelly underused in her movie-schticks) as Lotte.

And yes – Botho Strauß’ text and its whole concept of being more and more isolated when your partner leaves you, to the point where you are no longer able to communicate – it wouldn’t work without Cate Blanchett any longer. Written in ’78 the play shows the rapid descent into devastating loneliness because the partner left for another, younger, sexier woman. The problem being that almost 50 years later, probably everybody in the audience has already lived through this kind of separation anxiety without losing oneself into nothingness. Having a partner no longer is – or at least no longer has to be – the sole meaning of life.

That said, I loved the play. In ten “scenes” we are witness to a life being lost, a spirit being slowly suffocated by an unresponsive and largely silent group of friends, strangers, family. Lotte is an excentric, interesting, artsy person who loves to draw and is good at it. But after her husband Paul leaves her, she loses touch – loses her ability to connect with people. She rents a room in the same house where Paul is now living with his new lover, and is surprised when first she can’t win him back, and then is forced out by the rest of the tenants she wasn’t able to befriend even though she tried.

She shows up at the doorstep of her “best friend” who turns out to be a friend from grammar school she hasn’t seen in decades. She offers to lend an ear to Meggy’s problems, but ends up being used as a shoulder to cry on and thrown out as soon as Meggy feels better. The rooms that have been closing in on her get smaller all the time.  Lotte finds herself in a phone box, decorated with flowers and a chair, calling Paul over and over again, speaking into his answering machine, just in order to talk.

When she finally makes it to her happily married brother she has to realise that the man is hitched to an alcoholic wife and only partner in a dentist’s practice because said wife is the daughter of the owner. Her attempts at helping her brother who has long given up any hope of happiness in this family,  fail and she is on the road again. Tries being a girlfriend to an accountant who cannot cope with her excentricities, finally living rough and chatting up a young man at a bus stop with the fabulous story of being one of the 36 righteous people in the world, doing good deeds, so that god will not destroy mankind. The young man, fascinated by her tale as much as by her looks, turns away in disgust when she starts rummaging in a waste bin in search of newspapers, trying to find out if journalist Paul has written anything in them.

And finally we find her in the waiting room of a doctor’s practice, silent, just sitting there as if waiting for something, while the patients are called in to the doctor’s office one after the other. Patients that have already given her a wide berth, unwilling to communicate, unable to communicate with her. When finally everyone is done, the Doctor comes out – and it is yet another ironic twist that he is played by Robert Menzies who also is Paul – asking her if she has been seen. “I am not sick”, Lotte says and it seems as if she wants to be ill, just to connect again. “Then you should leave now” the Doctor says and Lotte nods, gets up and walks away into the dusk.

To see Lotte metamorphose from the excentric, happy go lucky, chatty woman from the beginning, who can’t stop talking, charming people, to the silent, hollow soul at the end is really gripping, thanks largely to Cate Blanchett’s skills and a great translation of Botho Strauß’ German text. Of course the audience came mostly to see the Hollywood great, but that way they were treated to a brilliant evening at the theatre, with a great cast even aside from marvellous Cate B. They seemed to have been sucked into the play  because there were 8 or 10 curtain calls and they were well deserved.

A tiny aside: As the actors were brought in from Australia I got to listen to the awesome cadence of Australian English. I think I’m still smiling today… 😉

Seminar May 2nd ’12

ny broadway

They are four star students, all determined to become successful novelists, all driven by their own egoes and the drive to become famous. And so they each pay 5000 Dollars and book the title-Seminar with Professor Leonard who is only taking the best students of the year for his ten sessions of – it turns out – cold, relentless criticism, designed to destroy, then remodel the wannabe-writers.

There’s rich boy Douglas (Jerry O’Connell) with an almighty best selling father who never had to fight for anything in his life. He is cockily convinced to be brilliant – and destroyed with a few well placed words.

There’s insecure Kate (Zoe Lister Jones) who has rewritten her novel for nine years and yet is privileged and talented.

There’s sexy Izzy (Hettienne Park) who uses her body as her weapon to get what she wants, and who has no inhibitions at all.

And then there’s repressed Martin (Justin Long) who is very combative, but is holding back his work – not so much because he thinks it’s bad, but because he thinks nobody is actually worth it to read his novel.

And there is Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) who with painful precision, sarcasm and a great deal of vanity and self centeredness tears the work of his student apart and rips it to pieces.

First is Douglas whom he tells he’s good. Good, but hollow. And that he’d do great in Hollow-wood. He mocks Kate for her obsession with her one novel until she’s throwing him out of her Manhattan apartment that is their meeting place each week. But as she does, Izzy, who has an affair with Martin, gets closer to Leonard – and thus a better review of her work than the others. And as the former friends start to disassemble and regroup and form new alliances, and learn that their teacher – who wrote best selling novels until he was accused of plagiarism – is not as good as they thought – or is he? – they finally accept what Leonard tries to teach them – to survive according to their talent.

Douglas is set up with two major Hollywood scriptwriters and obviously charms them, Kate – who faked the “biography” of a drag rapper and finally found something akin to acceptance from Leonard – is copy editing the work of others and Izzy found a job in a hip literary blog and loves it.

Martin is the only one who is still fighting with his inner demons, even though Leonard thinks he is the only one who actually has the talent to actually become a writer. It’s just that Martin can’t accept the guidance of someone whom he doesn’t respect. Until he by chance finds the new novel of his teacher and it is brilliant. And so a treaty is formed between the two men – in order to form a novelist out of raw talent.

I didn’t think it would be, but it was – funny. Very funny indeed. The biting criticism from Leonard is delivered in short bursts of energy, mixed with name dropping vanity and tales of his latest trips into dangerous war- and post-war- zones. And a war zone is this seminar as well. A war zone where alliances, fights, deep – metaphorical – wounds and finally submission happen no matter how and in what way they try to stop it. O’Connell was very good as the fresh faced “prince” who would definitely blend into the hollywood crowd seamlessly, as were Zoe and Hettienne. Justin Long did an amazing job as the repressed genius, down to the being homeless to afford the seminar part.

And then there was Jeff Goldblum – whom I had seen in Speed the Plow in London, with Kevin Spacey. And I really liked him a lot, his lanky frame a tool to make his outbursts even more significant, his expressive eyes and long fingers additional means of his acting that haul you in and hold you in fascinated attention. Can you hear the “but”?

I had seen a lot of these tools and mannerisms in London. Then as now they fit the character Goldblum plays, but it is quite a bit of a let down when it seems that this great actor is just copying the same character over and over again. I therefore would have loved to see Alan Rickman in the same part.

That said and please remember, I really liked the show as a whole, I was a bit surprised it didn’t get a Tony-nod. And I was even more surprised when the day after the nominations were out the plug was pulled prematurely on the play. Maybe the knowledge that the play would only have 4 more days to live was the reason why Goldblum didn’t come out at the matinee when I was stagedooring. He had, after all, only taken over a few weeks before from Rickman and in that time the theatre suffered from a serious almost 50% drop in ticket sales. Its premature closing is a shame, I think, but of course understandable from the producers’ point of mercantile view.