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35 3 Youth Culture Having failed as a husband, Harlan could now concentrate on his acting career. His Volksbühne comeback took place in another revolutionarycollectivist production in the tradition of Masse Mensch: Erwin Piscator’s staging of Alfons Paquet’s Fahnen (Flags), which dealt with a workers’ uprising in Chicago. Its first public showing on May 26, 1924, established Piscator as a leading exponent of political theater but did nothing for Harlan. Taking matters into his own hands, he auditioned with Berlin’s State Theater. Perhaps he wanted to avoid seeing his ex-wife, who would remain with the Volksbühne until 1929; another possibility is that he saw no future at a theater that remained second rate despite an occasional artistic triumph. Jürgen Fehling and Lucie Mannheim had already been wooed away. Harlan auditioned by declaiming Hamlet and was accepted, although in a Hamlet production staged two years later at the State Theater he had to be content with the part of Laertes. Since 1919, the house on the Gendarmenmarkt, the State Theater, had been in the hands of Leopold Jessner, who had to withstand nationalist attacks for being a Jew and a committed Social Democrat. His productions were chiefly responsible for letting Max Reinhardt appear dated and thus accelerating the latter’s departure for Vienna. In October 1924, Harlan gave his State Theater debut in Friedrich Schiller’s two-part Thirty Years’ War epic Wallenstein. The lead was played by Werner Krauss, the distinguished stage actor also acclaimed as a screen performer since Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), directed by Robert Wiene. It would have been an honor for Harlan to have participated in the first place, but he scored another unexpected success. Herbert Jhering, Germany’s most influential theater critic alongside Alfred Kerr and a much more constructive one— Kerr being too much in love with his own aphorisms—praised him: “The young Veit Harlan seems to be a strong talent, although he is so far handi- veit harlan 36 capped by a speech defect. But the way he is charging with expression the second hunter, and then the cavalry captain Neumann, made it possible to ignore that.”1 After some time, Harlan was allowed to take over the part of Max Piccolomini, juvenile hero of Wallenstein. He had a small part in Bertolt Brecht’s adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II, and Jhering’s favorable impression of him was confirmed when he appeared as Biondello in Ludwig Berger’s staging of The Taming of the Shrew,2 which was followed by Die Sündflut (The sin flood), where he first encountered his future alter ego and favorite leading man Heinrich George. One of the hottest playwrights of the day was Arnolt Bronnen, who with remarkable ease would switch between Communist and fascist affiliations , being a close friend to both Bertolt Brecht and Joseph Goebbels. In his case, the question of opportunism never came up; he followed any movement that aroused his passion. His drama Vatermord (Patricide) brought him the Kleist Award, whereas his play Exzesse (Excesses) had yet to wait for its first staging. Bronnen called the latter a “game of lust about a loving couple that meets only twice, once in the beginning, in order to say no, once in the end, in order to say yes. In between take place the excesses of the love game, which due to the lack of partners are acted out with a world unable to commit, affiliate and show emphathy.”3 The courage of Moriz Seeler, founder of the Junge Bühne (Young Stage), made a public showing of Exzesse possible. Seeler was allowed to use the stage of the Lessing-Theater, Walter Harlan’s first theater post in Berlin. The young actors who participated did not get even reduced fees—they were not paid at all—but they knew they would attract attention. First staged on June 7, 1925, Exzesse had audiences shouting, protesting, surpassing the ecstasy acted out onstage. Critics praised Bronnen for introducing humor into the youth drama, and Herbert Jhering found Harlan “excellent as a peasant boy.”4 Jhering’s colleague Monty Jacobs added that “the young Veit Harlan, who has repeatedly won attention at the State Theater, demonstrates in no less than two parts God’s given talent of a humorist in the making.”5 Exzesse established Harlan as a provocative actor who would alternate between conventional stagings of classics and daring experimental productions . This duality would remain...


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