Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The New York Project at TheaterForum Kreuzberg

NYProjectvs_2-01KleinLiving Room Productions is currently staging two plays by New York playwrights Daniel Sauermilch and Barbara Hammond at the TheaterForum Kreuzberg. Each play runs for 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break in between.

Barbara Hammond’s play June Weddings is about two solitary people who meet in a bar in Washington Heights. I got lost on the way to the theatre – as always happens to me in the area around Schlesisches Tor for some reason –  so I missed it.

Nonetheless, here are my impressions from the foyer; a male actor’s voice projected very well; in the beginning, were noises that sounded like doors slamming; later on, a telephone rings; towards the end everything became very quiet. Then there was a big applause. I’ve seem Hammond’s work in Berlin before; she’s a talented writer, so I’m sure the play was grand.

Daniel Sauermilch’s The Rwandans’ Visit is described as Albee meets Polanski, or ”Who is afraid of Carnage?” 

Two couples meet for a drink in an apartment in Prospect Park. One pair has just returned from a ‘life-changing’ trip to Vietnam and the other has been looking after two Rwandan exchange students who have just gone missing.

The characters are pretentious, racist and self-involved, despite thinking themselves liberal, politically correct and philanthropic. The dialogue is witty and it’s good fun watching their evening descend into farce. Yet the play lacks the tension of Albee and Polanski. Probably because the players always feel like characters born of other characters. This may have been the point, but it still left me wanting more. What is the history between these people, and what, apart from the playwright, is keeping them in the same room together?

The New York Project is on at the TheatreForum Kreuzberg tonight and tomorrow night at 20.00.


Berlin LitFest: Barbara Hammond and Harald Martenstein

So Berlin Literature Festival has kicked off, and we’ve attended two very different events so far.

Barbara HammondOn Wednesday evening Barbara Hammond read her dramatic monologue Eva the Chaste at Cafe Hilde. Eva has returned to Dublin after 20 years abroad to look after her dying mother. In that hour when night turns to dawn, Eva speaks about everything from the Catholic guilt and sexual repression of her childhood to her sexual promiscuity as an adult.

Her monologue is frank, peppered with dark humour and interesting turns of phrase. At its heart is her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, and the drama builds layer upon layer, towards its inevitable end.

Hammond herself read the monologue, although it is usually performed by actress Aedin Moloney. Eva the Chaste previously toured in New York living rooms, so having a group of about 15 people (including a very well-behaved baby) gathered around her armchair at the intimate Cafe Hilde seemed apt. She did not get distracted by the fact that the noise from the cafe was a bit too loud at the beginning – testament to the fact that she is an actress as well as a playwright and director – and read with an authentic, confident voice and fluidity throughout.

She seemed pleased, even a little surprised, that people had turned up to see her, and hung around to answer questions afterwards. During the conversation that followed, she explained that the character of Eva had just started talking to her one day, as characters sometimes do, and as Eva had yet more to say she was considering making the piece longer and turning it into a novella.

Harald Martenstein Kino Babylon 2010Yesterday evening well-known German columnist and writer Harald Martenstein presented his new novel Gefühlte Nähe to an audience of roughly 100 people at Kino Babylon. The book is more like a series of 23 short stories, all related from the point of view of different men who have one thing in common; a woman named N. Martenstein’s intention was to explore the love-lives of people in the late 20th century.

The first story he read was about a teacher on whom N had a crush as a schoolgirl, and the second was a conversation between two guys (one of whom had had an affair with N) about women. Both were unexceptional. The first at least had a story going for it, while the second was filled with clichés about women being princesses in love with their fathers etc that you would hear down the pub, which isn’t a problem in itself but becomes one when nothing else really happens, in which case it becomes more like a rant – or, for that matter, a column (for what are columns but rants?)

Martenstein’s particular talent is his humour, and his stories certainly got some laughs, but ultimately they lacked substance. If he weren’t such a well-known figure, I doubt he’d get these published.

He writes well in the male voice, and said that he had chosen to write all these stories from male perspectives because that was what he felt more comfortable with. However, part of a writer’s skill is to be able to write from different points of view. Moreover, even though this book is about men, there’s something chauvinistic about the fact that they are all tied together by a woman who never gets her say. And why is she simply called ‘N’, and not named?

Literary critic Marius Meller asked him a few questions between the two readings, but didn’t draw the author into any meaningful conversation about the work. In any case, he seemed more concerned about the fact that we all had to get out of the room by 8pm. There was no opportunity for the audience to ask questions, although one brave woman did grab her chance to shout out a question about whether Martenstein endorsed the kind of lifestyle that he was writing about. I bet she wished that she hadn’t bothered, because he cut her down with a comment about how he relies on the intelligence of his readers to recognise the difference between the author and his fiction. This inevitably got a few laughs, which encouraged Martenstein to go on insulting the woman, in effect repeating the same point about five times.  What an arrogant git.