Access options available:. We are implicated, but here through inclusion, not opposition. We are joined with the group on stage. Spaces merge instead of clash. The power of space is also evidently a concern of the government censors here in Poland.
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ON Wednesday, an Argentinian theater company, famous for its grisly confrontational scenes, will begin performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music of a year-old German play that has had only one prominent American production, 14 years ago, even though critics and scholars generally consider it the signal text of the post modern theater. It hasn't deserved the neglect -- and it is not the only Muller play that has been ignored in the United States, perhaps the last country with an active theatrical tradition where this virtuoso provocateur, dead since , remains obscure.
Barely nine pages long in its German edition though it typically runs an hour or more in performance , ''Hamletmachine'' is the poetic residue of a Hamlet translation Muller prepared in -- for which he was promptly accused of plagiarism by two other translators. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed. Muller's risky habit during much of his career was to adopt the styles and personas of other authors. He did not do this trivially, for the cheap thrill of mimicry, but rather out of a principled mistrust of originality and the historical construction of literary heroes.
This was one of many ways in which he was the heir of Bertolt Brecht, who once coined the term Kopien for his own communistic attitude of regarding others' writing as incentives to work rather than as private property. Muller pushed the idea to an extreme, assuming the stance of a historically subversive virus or vampire occupying the corpus of major writers -- like Shakespeare, Wagner, Kleist, Genet, Brecht and Sophocles -- literally adopting their styles and structures in order to explode the supposedly pernicious historical assumptions behind their revered concepts of drama.
The ambition was heady, to be sure, and the lofty intellectualism behind it is a clue to why Muller has not taken the American theater by storm. In the 's, however, what caught the eye of Western journalists were not his theories of identity or originality but the fact that he seemed to be writing like a hip and angry young Westerner. Occasionally banned and denounced in East Germany during the decades before he was hailed as its pre-eminent playwright, Muller was known when the 's began mostly by specialists, in the West as the author of bravely impressive but somewhat dour classical adaptations, Brechtian ''learning plays,'' and realistic dramas about the problems of building socialism.
For him to burst onto the Western scene then with explosively fragmented mytho-historical collages and ''landscape dramas'' featuring references to Pink Floyd, backward-running film, bleeding refrigerators and the like, was not only a finger in the eye of East German cultural bureaucrats but also, in ways not immediately recognized, a fillip at his new Western public.
Muller was a studied self-contradictor and an extraordinarily adept public manipulator in the spirit of Andy Warhol, and from its first appearance in , ''Hamletmachine,'' which contains a stage direction that calls for the tearing of the author's photograph, was regarded as a moment of crisis in his career.
He could not have stage-managed this reaction more fittingly for his purposes that is, cultivating his own fame. The play's title, as he later explained, arose as a reference to the ''Bachelor-Machine'' of Marcel Duchamp and to the mechanized art factory of Warhol, whom he quotes in the work a character called Hamlet Actor says, ''I want to be a machine''. This reading I circulated with care.
As much as anything else, though, it is a sort of dramatic practical joke: a playscript conceived for ''open'' use by those who don't believe in the viability of plays anymore, as well as a metaphorical examination of the crisis of the Marxist intellectual written by an intellectual who wishes it known that he may be neither Marxist nor in crisis.
Strangely enough, this half-seriousness has helped keep the work stageworthy years after its dense web of Eastern European references has grown hopelessly obscure. It was this play, along with his own ''Hamlet'' translation, that Muller chose to direct at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in , as his countrymen were voting East Germany out of existence. That eight-hour production, which he called ''a national requiem,'' could be seen as a fitting culmination to the long Eastern European literary tradition found in writers from Stanislaw Witkiewicz to Pavel Kohout and Vaclav Havel that treated Hamlet as a type and his dilemma as a syndrome.
Each of the main speakers refers to some personal rebellion, which, with Nietzschean boldness, also calls all European culture into question: ''I was Hamlet. My drama doesn't take place anymore. In the end, they seem scarcely more determined than Hamlet, in some ways less so. The work speaks on many levels, but one of Muller's main points seems to be that the intellectual in the late modern, or postmodern, era bears burdens of consciousness that Shakespeare, for one, never imagined -- burdens involving the overwhelming ''heap'' of humanist culture, for instance, and powerful myths about ''the death of the Author'' and ''the death of Drama.
Eliot, E. Cummings, Friedrich Holderlin, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Antonin Artaud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Warhol, Shakespeare, the Bible, Muller himself and others, often strung together without connecting text, the work tacitly renounces style but nevertheless ultimately acquires something like a style because of the humor and intelligence with which Muller applies the quotations and molds Shakespeare's characters and other borrowed figures to his purposes.
It is dense with sarcasm and posturing yet nevertheless gathers a sort of sincerity in the course of protesting too much about its insincerity. Muller said in ''For 30 years Hamlet was a real obsession for me, so I tried to destroy him by writing. I think the main impulse is to strip things to their skeleton, to rid them of their flesh and surface. Then you are finished with them. As might be expected, the production history of this work is every bit as colorful as its literary reputation.
An entire paperback book exists in German about the attempt of a theater in Cologne to stage the play's world premiere in Rather than documenting the production, though, the book chronicles its cancellation two weeks before the scheduled opening. When the play did finally receive its West German premiere the next year in Essen its world premiere was in France , the final tableau -- in which a wheelchair-bound Ophelia is mummified with gauze bandages -- was reportedly so frightening that some spectators rushed onto the stage to free the actress.
Subsequent productions have fallen generally into two categories, soft and hard -- meaning those that avoid illustrating or augmenting the violence and aggressiveness in Muller's text and those that indulge in it.
The former include Robert Wilson's widely praised version at New York University later restaged in London and Hamburg , in which a quasi-mechanical, grindingly quiet action, almost completely uncontingent on the text, was overlaid on it. Several relatively temperate versions have also been done in Japan, where Muller is a subject of strong interest. It has also been staged as an improvisatory ''open rehearsal'' in a Tokyo film studio whose wide doors were opened to the street.
The most prominent avatar of the hard aesthetic is probably Muller himself, since his Deutsches Theater production particularly the ''Hamlet'' action that surrounded and established the context for ''Hamlet machine'' was awash in literal references to violence and greed and other stage effects clearly meant to sharpen what was already caustic and jarring in the text.
The work of the Buenos Aires troupe El Periferico de Objetos, whose Spanish-language production ''Maquina Hamlet'' with English supertitles will play four performances at the Harvey Theater, is very much in this spirit. Its work follows in the tradition of the late avant-garde Polish director Tadeusz Kantor, and has been described as an ''aesthetic of death'' in which the interactions of anthropomorphic objects with visible manipulators take on powerful metaphorical overtones.
The name Periferico de Objetos defies translation, because it uses an adjective meaning peripheral as a noun. The company, Mr. Garcia Wehbi said, considers ''the peripheral'' the best position from which ''to understand art and the world'' because, as with Kantor and Brecht, it makes possible a new manner of perceiving, an access to intimacy through distancing and disruption.
Veronese, Mr. Garcia Wehbi and Ms. Alvarado, dates from , when, Mr. Garcia Wehbi says, ''The group found itself in some sort of aesthetic crisis; we were wondering about our role as artists within society.
Their feeling was that this was ''the very same question Hamlet asks himself in Shakespeare's play'' and also, ''more radically,'' the one the Hamlet Actor asks in Muller's piece. The ''only thing'' an intellectual can do today, Mr. Garcia Wehbi said, ''is reflect on his own blindness. None of Mr.
Garcia Wehbi's remarks are likely to prepare New York audiences for the casual cruelty of ''Maquina Hamlet,'' though. Inspired partly by rage over political and historical events in Argentina which recovered democracy in but whose democratic institutions the company considers corrupt , the action careers from simulated rape with a sword, to menacing men in rat masks, to the use of a shackled prisoner as a dart board, to the horrifically methodical dismantling of a puppet-victim chosen at random from an ''audience,'' to the ritual abuse of headless Barbie dolls.
Photo-projections of historical atrocities in Argentina and elsewhere and a hauntingly fragmented sound design add to the overall sense of terror and dread mixed with macabre humor. Renate Klett, a German critic and dramaturge who has worked with many directors internationally and insists she has seen as many productions of ''Hamletmachine'' as any Muller specialist, is an admirer of El Periferico, particularly of what she sees as the group's increasing radicalism.
She recently recalled a performance of the company's piece ''Zooedipous'' in Brussels, at which ''most of the audience walked out'' after witnessing the simulated killing and raw consumption of a chicken. At ''Maquina Hamlet'' in Hamburg, by contrast, ''only half of the audience walked out.
Garcia Wehbi said the simulated violence is intended to work ''as a mirror. Violence in the electronic media, he said, ''works the opposite way, spacing out the audience from reality. Those same people, watching the same acts on TV, wouldn't turn it off. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. Home Page World U.
THEATER; A Postmodern Hamlet By a Driven Provocateur
For Hamletmachine , Wilson first worked with students at New York University, and later—in the original German version—with theater students in Hamburg, produced by the Thalia Theater. In , the production was revived in an Italian version with acting students from the Theater Academy "Silvio d'Amico" in Rome. Spoleto, Hamburg, New York University, It may be read as a pamphlet against the illusion that one can stay innocent in this our world. I am glad that Robert Wilson does my play, his theatre being a world of its own.
ON Wednesday, an Argentinian theater company, famous for its grisly confrontational scenes, will begin performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music of a year-old German play that has had only one prominent American production, 14 years ago, even though critics and scholars generally consider it the signal text of the post modern theater. It hasn't deserved the neglect -- and it is not the only Muller play that has been ignored in the United States, perhaps the last country with an active theatrical tradition where this virtuoso provocateur, dead since , remains obscure. Barely nine pages long in its German edition though it typically runs an hour or more in performance , ''Hamletmachine'' is the poetic residue of a Hamlet translation Muller prepared in -- for which he was promptly accused of plagiarism by two other translators. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed. Muller's risky habit during much of his career was to adopt the styles and personas of other authors. He did not do this trivially, for the cheap thrill of mimicry, but rather out of a principled mistrust of originality and the historical construction of literary heroes.