Thu, Mar 14, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Theater Review: Christopher Ruping’s remake of ‘Drums in the Night’ is just a play

Christopher Ruping’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s play left our reviewer scratching her head, with the work’s satire rendering the plot irrelevent

By Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Drums in the Night opened at the National Theater in Taipei last weekend as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts.

Photo courtesy of National Performing Arts Center

As I sat in my seat at the National Theater in Taipei last Friday night, watching the cast of Drums in the Night jog on and off the stage during the curtain call for what seemed like one too many times, one question clouded my mind: Why was the audience clapping? Applause — and a thunderous one at that — felt wildly inappropriate.

Billed as a “story about choices,” Christopher Ruping’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s play ran for three performances last weekend with two separate endings. On Friday, the visiting Munich Kammerspiele reenacted Brecht’s version, in which World War I veteran Andreas Kragler (Christian Lober) chooses the love of his life, Anna Balicke (Wiebke Mollenhauer), over joining the Spartacist uprising. On Saturday and — as a result of an audience vote — Sunday, it tweaked the final act to let Kragler kill off his bourgeois girlfriend.

But the emphasis on Kragler’s choice between love and revolution, which took no more than 15 minutes to play out, was misplaced, because the play had already declared that it was anti-romantic. Throughout the two-hour show, the audience’s suspension of disbelief had been broken multiple times by the drama-loving journalist, Babusch (Damian Rebgetz), who became an immediate audience favorite. He belt out hits, like Billie Jean and What’s Up?, with lyrics that fitted the plot hilariously (“The kid is not my son” and “I pray every single day / For a revolution”). Banners reading “Don’t stare so romantically” decorated the theater and the reenactment of the play’s 1922 debut verged on parody with the actors’ stiff performances.

If we were not meant to believe the characters’ moral dilemmas were genuine, then what difference did it make whether Anna chose her wealthy fiance Friedrich Murk (Nils Kahnwald) or Kragler, whether Kragler chose love or revolution and whether Ruping chose his or Brecht’s versions? Satire had rendered the plot irrelevant.

I was already detached from the play, but what quickly followed the death of Anna in both versions left me feeling completely perplexed and betrayed. Within just a few moments, Anna had died, Mollenhauer had shaken off the fake blood on her neck and the cast had told the audience, once again, that this was all “just a play” before literally shredding the wooden set. The stage clears, and the actors return to accept the audience’s applause. And applaud they did.

The applause — both the giving and receiving of it — was strange not because the production was particularly undeserving but because it was anti-theater, and to clap or to bow in acceptance of that applause was a sign that even that rare anti-theatricality was performed. Drums in the Night was, after all, “just a play.”

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