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The Thrust Stage as Guillotine Andrzej Wirth Danton'sDeath Alley Theatre, Houston (1992) IN POSTMODERN FASHION Robert Wilson's interculturalism is unpredictable and noncommittal. However, it would be difficult not to notice that in the last two decades his work has been produced predominantly in Germany, and also inspired by the culture of German-speaking countries, with all its universalist achievements (Einstein, Freud, Mozart, Strauss, Weber, GlUck, Wagner, Liebermann), its literature (Kafka, Thomas Mann, Heiner Muller, Dorst), its dark mythology (Parsifal, Lohengrin, Faustus, Freischutz), and its criminal aberrations (Hess, Speer). Nevertheless, Wilson 's decision to stage Danton's Death at the Alley Theatre in Houston comes as a surprise. Bfichner's juvenile masterpiece is of course no more German than it is unversalist, beside being a turning point in the history of modern Western drama. But it is also idiosyncratically German in its Hamletic attitude towards the French Revolution, and indeed towards any revolution, an ambivalence which will still torture the German conscience in the works of Brecht, Peter Weiss, Muller, and recently in the confused and wishful thinking of the self-collapse of the midget Honnecker state as a "German Revolution." The American Revolution was a war of liberation from its colonial status, and the Robespierrean "despotism of freedom against tyranny" remains an abstract and foreign idea to the American mind. The discourse of the play is about setting grand ideas in motion, which in America did not require such bloodletting. In Danton's words "our statue of liberty has not yet 59 been cast." But are not any topical references irrelevant for Wilson's "light touch" which is capable of transforming anything into a formal and abstract theatre of overwhelming beauty? This is undoubtedly the case, but it is also true that the Buchner play, with its long speeches and climate of engaged debate, resists more than any other material such a transformation. The English version by Robert Auletta is respectful enough of BUchner to leave Wilson with the challenge of the dense, argumentative, partially rhetorical text which mixes freely private and public discourse, something he has avoided instinctively up to now. This time without elevating the challenge through radical abbreviations of the text or deconstruction Wilson meets the problem head on, with mixed results. He tries to flatten out speech and to stylize it through aspirated consonants (Marion), rhetorical pathos (Danton, Robespierre), or sweet affection (St. Just), also allowing a carnivalesque exuberance in the street scenes. However, this estrangement is not consistent in the acting, leaving the audience uncertain whether the production intends to formalize speech manneristically, or to interpret the dramatic characters. The treatment of language leaves us with the impression of compromise and unintended eclecticism. (Wilson had a similar problem with the language of King Lear in the Frankfurt production. He didn't make the right decision on translation, and permitted the actors to slip into the rhetorical diction of the German state theatre. This was in painful contrast to the abstract simplicity of the settings.) Wilson casts paradoxically, as Brecht would say, "against the text": the youthful looking John-Boy from the TV serial The Waltons cast in the role of Danton; a young Off-Broadway actor, Lou Liberatore, cast as Robespierre. In the interpretative theatre which Wilson abhors, such a casting decision would be an invitation to read the play from the perspective of the young Buchner, identifying his stance with the position of Danton in the play. There is, however, no supplementary evidence in this production for such an assumption. In Wilson's rendering the chaotic play is structurally clarified, and runs in altering rhythms of short interior ("Room") and exterior ("A Street") scenes towards the unavoidable annihilation of Danton and his political friends. But the story is told with extreme distanciation, lit by the cold light of David's paintings and quoting David in the props (Robespierre in Marat's bathtub), and performed by the protagonists who wear morbidly pale facial masks. (Heiner Muller: "The Revolution is the mask of death.") Wilson's abstracting attitude has a cooling effect, and the universal bloodletting of the story, compared in the text to the rituals of the Stone Age, is set by Wilson...


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pp. 59-61
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