The Last Days of Caterpillar
Falk Richter's Verräter - Die letzten Tage
Maxim Gorki Theater | Berlin
directed by Falk Richter
Falk Richter’s Verräter - Die letzten Tage (Traitors - The Last Days) is an attempt to grasp and examine the recent and radical turns in today’s political climate. The title alone elicits the questions that provide a framework for understanding the entire production. If there are traitors in the world around us, who are they and whom have they betrayed? If these are indeed the last of days, are we experiencing the death throes of the world as we know it or simply the beginning of something new?
The stage design of Katrin Hoffmann presents an apocalyptic world of charred ash upon which the video projection of Aliocha Van Der Avoort has free reign to guide our perception. The semi-biographic retellings of the cast are punctuated by live musical interludes performed by the actors themselves. While serious at times the piece retains a lightening sense of humor and the almost two hour production passes quickly by.
Traitors is Richter’s first project since the legal battle with the AfD that resulted from his last production in Berlin, Fear. The new project is based in large part upon the biographies of the Maxim Gorki ensemble and it is difficult at times to see where the truth ends and the storytelling begins. For Mareike Beykirch home is “where I feel like a traitor”; a former East German village so full of “losers” and Nazis that, when visiting, she has to wear sunglasses for fear of crying. Similarly, Mehmet Atesçi, a gay and self-proclaimed “half-Turk,” recounts having to chose which part of his identity to betray while in Istanbul during the confusion of the recently attempted military coup.
The performance explores not only the story of those who feel as if they have betrayed their own heritage, but also that of those who feel as if they have been forgotten and betrayed by the world around them. In a fearful stream of consciousness Daniel Lommatzsch puts forth a viscerally convincing, but highly illogical rationalization of the need for nationalism in order to save the men of Europe from the widespread threat of effeminacy, as he sees it.
Yet while the production successfully illuminates how one could come to hold such extreme beliefs, the general lack of dramatic structure becomes somewhat problematic. Through the confusion, however, a pattern can be seen. Unsure and confronted by the sheer scale of the challenges of today’s world, those with an oversimplified worldview often turn to one of two alternatives. The search for an authoritarian leader to provide themselves with a false sense of security or the naming of minority groups as the symbolic scapegoat for perceived threats to their own wellbeing. Thus backward ways of thinking thought to be extinct once again rear their ugly heads.
All in all, Richter and the Maxim Gorki created performance that reaffirms a fundamental social role of theatre. The ability to actively respond to the world around us by turning a critical eye towards the happenings of today in now more then ever of great importance. The thought provoking production ends optimistically and leaves us with an encouraging metaphor. At one point during the metamorphosis of a butterfly certain caterpillar-cells, sensing the coming change, begin to resist their own transformation. Perhaps what we are experiencing today is much the same. We may be living the last days of the caterpillar afraid of the natural progression towards something greater.
photo | ©Ute Langkafel