Fri, Mar 08, 2019 - Page 14 News List

Theater Preview: Drumming up a storm

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Munchner Kammerspiele will perform Christopher Ruping’s updating of Bertold Brecht’s Trommeln in der Nacht (Drums in the Night) at the National Theater in Taipei this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Julian Baumann

Germany’s famed Munchner Kammerspiele opens at the National Theater in Taipei tonight with the first of three performances of Bertold Brecht’s Trommeln in der Nacht (Drums in the Night) as part of the 11th Taiwan International Festival of Arts (TIFA).

Drums in the Night was the second play that Brecht wrote, but was the first to be produced, in 1922, when the playwright was just 24. He had written it between 1918 and 1919, when he was serving as a medical orderly in the Germany army.

Labeled a “comedy in five acts,” the play was performed by the Munchner Kammerspiele, then a 16-year-old privately funded troupe, but one that had already developed a reputation for more avant-garde and expressionist work.

Drums in the Night is about choices, the ones made by a woman named Anna Balicke and those of her boyfriend, Andreas Kragler, a soldier who had been declared missing four years before.

The entire play takes place during an evening in Berlin in November 1918, during the early days of the November Revolution that led to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Believing that Andreas is dead, Anna has been under pressure from her parents to marry a businessman, Friedrich Murk, who had become a wealthy manufacturer during the war. She is pregnant with his child, and finally agrees.

However, as Anna and her family celebrate the engagement, a shell-shocked and bedraggled Andreas shows up; he had been a prisoner-of-war in Africa and it took him years to make it back to Berlin, where his first stop was the Balicke home.

Anna’s parents press her to stick with Murk because he could offer her a better life than a poor ex-soldier, and she says yes.

An angry and disillusioned Andreas decides to become a member of the revolutionaries trying to topple the government.

However, Anna later changes her mind and Andreas must choose between a life with her and his dream of a revolution.

Drums in the Night is also about the choices made by Brecht and the original production team of director Otto Falckenberg and stage designer Otto Reigbert.

Despite the success of the play and the key role it played in his winning the Kleist Prize as Germany’s most promising playwright of 1922, Brecht later claimed that he had only written it because he needed money, and that he disliked both the happy ending he had written and the way Falckenberg directed it.

Nevertheless, the play is seen as seminal to Brecht’s development as a playwright, with its focus on class divisions and class warfare years before he became a Marxist.

Christopher Ruling, 33, is one of the hottest young directors working in Germany. He directed a production of Drums in the Night in 2015, but decided to do another with Munchner Kammerspiele, after he became the company’s in-house director at the start of the 2016/2017 season.

His new production premiered in Munich in December 2017, offering some twists and new choices to Brecht’s version.

One choice that Ruling made was to move the timeline from 1922 to the present; another was to focus the action more on the impact of the family dynamics on their environment.

The biggest change, however, was to do two versions of the play: one with the original ending and one devised by Ruling, thereby giving the audience the power to choose for the characters — in keeping with the banner hung in the theater that read “Glotzt nicht so romantisch!” (“Don’t just stand there watching!”).

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