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Ether Magazine Blog - Aug. 24, 2008

Corpses in the Cellar

By John Hodgshon

The title pretty much sums up the themes of the latest play by the Jewish Theater of Austria, “der Garten im Schrank”. Directed and written by Warren Rosenzweig, it tells the story of a family (father, mother, son, daughter-in-law and the unseen ‘boy’) and their attempts and failure to come to terms with the past. The play is staged in front of the Mariahilfkirche, and is a minimalist production. The protagonists have no names beyond the titles given above, and the location and period are never clearly explained. This all helps to create an eerie, other-wordly atmosphere.

The atmosphere is the play’s main strength, which is accentuated by the unusual method used to communicate the dialogue - the actors do not speak more than a few inarticulate words, and communicate their feelings through mime and facial expression. The pre-recorded dialogue is heard through headphones, and one can choose between English and German. I chose English, because I felt the Brooklyn accent variety gave the dialogue a real sparkle, and (for me a least) gave it a more Middle European feeling than High- German could. The strong stage lights and make up of the actors also creates an atmosphere similar to the early German Expressionist films.

The themes? Well, first off, if you’re a) looking for something happy feel-good or b) a raving Austrian nationalist, don’t see this play. It deals with themes of neurosis, Holocaust denial and family breakdown. The fact that the nationality and era of the characters is never explicitly stated makes the play more ambiguous. Although the main reading can be taken as a criticism of Austria’s refusal to come to terms with its role in the Holocaust, the ambiguity of the production means it can be interpreted as an overall criticism of not coming to terms with one’s own history. I preferred it this way, as it created an atmosphere in which the suffering of the characters really came out - think of “Waiting for Godot.” The idea that repressing memories results in painful neurosis was well done - particularly by Mimi Kilinger who plays the mother.

If you want to see something different and thought-provoking, go see this play. The play will continue throughout September.

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