‘Trilogy of the reunion’ , De Tijd and Het Toneelhuis
In spring 2003 S.M.A.K. became the décor for Botho Strauss’ play “Trilogy of the reunion” (Dutch: “Trilogie van het weerzien”). The setting of the play, an opening of an exhibition with contemporary art, makes a production in a gallery very interesting. Before and after the presentation and in the interval people could visit the museum and the collection. The cast with actors and actresses of the companies De Tijd and Het Toneelhuis was impressive and was brought together especially for this occasion. Programming and organisation happened together with “Kunstencentrum Vooruit”.
cast 'Trilogie van het weerzien' © Patrick De Spiegelaere
“It is empty in here. We should have to cheer up the walls with something. With a few frames, a few paintings…”. This is what lawyer Basov suggests in the opening of ‘Zomergasten’ (1904°) by Maksim Gorki, a piece about the Russian bourgeoisie on the eve of the unsuccessful revolution of 1905. In the seventies Botho Straus made an adaptation of Gorki’s conversation piece as dramaturgist of director Peter Stein for the Berliner Schaubühne. He was struck by the modernity of the play: the for those time remarkable realism of dialogues, but especially the guts to cut across the accepted, nineteenth century dramaturgy. In “Zomergasten” the plot of the story has no longer a central place in the piece. Even more: there is no plot, no action, actually there does not happen a thing. People only talk, and all that talking is the actual subject of the piece.
The adaptation of Gorki’s classic inspired Strauss in 1976 to write his own “Zomergasten”. At the opening of Strauss’ play the walls, which the character Basov found so empty, were decorated with the beauty that he was longing for. “Trilogy of the reunion” is set during a vernissage of an exhibition, entitled “Capitalistic realism”, somewhere at the end of that same 20th century. While Gorki’s character hope to recover in nature, Strauss’s figures are looking for a renewal in art. None of both landscapes offers an outlook. A few revolutions later, we come to the sobering conclusion, that, except for the few paintings on the wall, nothing has changed. Imagination has not come to power. This especially upper middle class citizens, who claim to be art connoisseurs, are not able to have a vision on art that goes further than the literal. The chemist of the company and his wife talk about a panel painting of a landscape in the style of photographic realism as if it was about a beautiful touristic place. And for Felix, the sales manager in a supermarket, the corn on a canvas is enough to give him hay fever. At the beginning the company – a doctor, a chemist, an artist, a printer, a writer, a sales manager, two actors and a few unemployed women - supports the exhibition Moritz has put together. But when the rumour went round that the direction wants to forbid the exhibition, the opinions of all changed one by one. In a letter the direction criticizes the lack of coherence in the exhibited works and it suspects Moritz of showing a number of favourite paintings over and over again.
MORITZ My exhibition- the coherence is missing,they say.
That is possible, but where, for God’s sake, can you find coherence? All those artists together have, without exception, something of all against one, they are Einzelgänger, one ego against another. They all have got their own view on the world, and that is what they are painting. I do not see any coherence at all. There is not any. And I thought, that is what I will show, harsh as it is, that there is not one artist that has something to do with another one, and then we can come to a kind of consciousness…a kind of consciousness… On the other hand, this I do not deny, there are a few paintings, which I started loving over the years and I also always want to show again. Tight, perfect, balanced work, which can face time in all silence. And for one little moment of that time I want to have them with me, that is all. Maybe that is my privilege, but it is also my answer to the fair of art today, to the tricks and effects, the little pathos, the sad fixed ideas…
‘Trilogy of the reunion’ is a trilogy of reuniting, revising, looking at old things with new eyes. Not only in art, but also in love. There are no connections in the collection of works of art, and also in the collection people as well as in language itself you cannot find a coherence. Moritz- to take one example out of this hopeless mass of people with poor communication skills – may have an alert view on art, in his relation with Susanne he is searching for confirmation, like all others in their relation to art. Susanne correctly asks herself, how he is able to recognize her every time because she has the constant feeling that he is not seeing her… that for him, she does not exist.
SUSANNE I say it now, because I do not want to forget it myself. Sometimes I flinch because I do not remember my own name…Besides, you did not ask me once for my girl’s name. No, Moritz, you do not give me a feeling for myself.
No feeling for my age. For the history of my face, for the story of my good and bad sides. I have become who I am now, Moritz, and not only because of you, which is what you are thinking, but also because of many others. So why do I stand in front of you and am I suddenly nothing more than a magnifying glass on yourself, better than a mirror?
Botho Strauss does not only talk about the reunion, the meeting we have to accomplish with the other again and again, but he also deals with the reunion with the past, about taking a position towards tradition: looking back to the history of an individual, of society, of art, of literature. In this way his texts are, in form and content, always an explanation of what happened before in an attempt to draw up a temporary and confusing state of affairs of the present. With ‘Trilogy of the Reunion’ Strauss has made an ‘update’ of Gorki’s ‘Zomergasten’, he showed the same again, but through the eyes of his time.
In the nineties the Antwerp theatre company De Tijd dedicated a full season to Botho Strauss’ plays ‘Slotkoor’, ‘De Hypochronder’ and ‘Groot en klein’. Until the year 2002, ‘Zomergasten’ stood on the program of De Tijd and in the season 2002-2003, director Lucas Vandervorst took up the challenge again of a piece with a big ensemble. A part of the cast of ‘Zomergasten’ has been completed with famous faces from of the fixed actors core of the Antwerp Toneelhuis from Antwerp as well, because this coproduced the presentation.
text: Botho Strauss
direction: Lucas Vandervost
with: Bert André, Warre Borgmans, Dirk Buyse, Gilda De Bal, Antje De Boeck, Mieke De Groote, Jurgen Delnaet, Bob De Moor, Els Dottermans, Han Kerckhoffs, Alice Reys, Johan Van Assche, Wim van der Grijn, Dirk Van Dijck, Katelijne Verbeke.