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PoliticalandPracticalIdeologies Gordon S. Armstrong The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets Thalia Theater, Hamburg (1990) THERE IS A remarkable dialectic between what many regard as the enthusiastic reception Robert Wilson's folk operas have received in Europe, particularly in Germany and France, and the cool reception his works have received in the United States. On May 20, 1990, Arthur Holmberg-citing Wilson in his New York Times review of Wilson's forthcoming Learwhich featured Marianne Hoppe-quoted the "P.T. Barnum" of the avant-garde: I don't want to spend the rest of my life as an expatriot, but America is going through an extremely conservative tunnel now. ... The artistic energy was in New York in the 1960s. Now it's in Europe, and the energy level in Germany is higher today than a year ago. Wilson sees the ideo-political chaos that is emerging as an extraordinary influence for his purposes: "The recent political events in eastern Europe are vitalizing the country, and this vitality spills over into culture." Not all of that vitality is healthy. In the late summer and fall of 1992, riots by right-wing German extremists in protest against an influx of Bosnian and Hercegovinan refugees, set a dark, neo-fascistic tone. Wilson's The Black Rider presciently demonstrated the new German problematics. In March 1990, the master of detachment merged the astonishing visual acuity that is his theatre of images, his collaboration with William Burroughs 's text, and Tom Waits's songs, to produce The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg. Retelling 38 the chilling 1810 tale "Der Freinchutz" (The Fatal Marksman) by August Apel and Friedrich Laun, a text that inspired Anton Weber's opera of the same name, this charmingly subversive "cabaret-farce" traveled from Hamburg to Vienna in June, and to Paris in October, to be greeted by 20minute standing ovations. Weber's opera, the story of a suitor who sells his soul to the devil to win the hand of a forester's daughter in a shooting contest ends happily. However the original, and Wilson's late entry, end in cataclysmic disaster for young William, confined to a madhouse and for young Kate, killed by the last "magic bullet" aimed by Satan in jest, and fired by her fiance in error. In this work, the postmodernist "doubling" of fragmented images is everything, as The Black Rider presents the multiple specters of Cabaret, The Rocky HorrorShow, and The Threepenny Opera, writ in an artistic genre of the concluding decade of the twentieth century. Gerhard Stadelmaeier , a reviewer from the FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung, saw Wilson 's Thalia Theater production to be governed by a central principle: "the loss of values and a general devastation: everything is a quote, all play is simply a 'playing upon,' heaven and hell are just a part of the fun." The entire world is a cabaret. However, this is only a part of Wilson's investiture. Of equal importance in The Black Rider are the stunningly apt expressionistic and surrealistic influences from the 1920s and the 1930s, another time of psychic contortion for Germany, a country then trying desperately to recover-financially and psychologically-from the ravages of defeat and retributions imposed upon it by Western Allied nations. Germany's contorted recovery produced Robert Wiene's The Cabinetof Dr. Caligari. Wilson's The Black Rider opens with a roisterous circus-like barker in the audience striding to the stage, megaphone-to-mouth, taunting spectators to pay attention. Suddenly, a large black box descends from the flies and slides onstage. At the side of the box a bare leg dangles provocatively. The sex of the leg is not clear. A door to the box opens, and to the tune of a circus march, twelve grotesque comedians emerge, tumble out, pose and grimace amidst the fog that rises from the stage floor. In the dim light the box begins to grow, finally filling the entire stage space. The audience is in effect drawn into the box, into the strange world of these comedians and the circus barker-in a scene reminiscent of Caligari. Similarly, Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories...


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pp. 38-41
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