Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review- The Threepenny Opera- Robert Wilson

The Brothel Scene in Act Two, The red boards continued to rise over the course of 10 minutes.
This week I saw the greatest show I have ever seen and I didn't understand a single word of it. My roomie Michael and I went and saw Robert Wilson's The Threepenny Opera at HK Arts Festival. Performed by the Berliner Ensemble, uncut, in the original German it was one of the most visually stunning productions I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.  The only negative thing about it was it took two hours for the first intermission to come and I really had to pee by the end of it! Some audience members simply didn't have the stamina for a 3 1/2 hours of German, avant guarde theatre and left! We stuck it out though and were rewarded with an experience theatrically we will never forget!

The Design

Wilson's Texas Sky was present particularly in Act One when they were talking about the moon. The backdrop of Threepenny was a cyc that had color projected on it and then several movable stage pieces that lit up interchangeably based on the sound designed. For example, a bell would be rung and the scenery would change lighting. It reminded me of a piece of Op Art from the 60's. When the Hoods would dance in front of the light bars in Act One they were only lit from shin busters and therefore looked like a piece of video art or a flip books rather than actors simply moving across the stage. The makeup and hair were stunning. Between the highly exagerated makeup and the blue spot lights all the cast had the appearances of corpses. Their faces looked like they were carved out of clay rather than makeup being put on flat surfaces. Simply stunning.

Robert Wilson is one of the most prolific American directors in the theatre scene today and although I know some people do not care for his work I think his work is simply amazing. It blows my mind to think what the rehearsal process must be for one of his shows. Wilson also designs his own stage concepts and his own lighting with the help of assistant designers who implement his ideas. Watching one of his shows is like watching a 3 hour painting or moving sculpture rather than a traditional theatrical event. 

Below is a video off of youtube where you can see the scenery, the makeup and the lighting. I highly recommend you take a look at it because you can not only see the examples of the work that Wilson does but you can see some of the process in which the makeup and costumes are being put on the actors.

Hands down the best part of the show was the sound design. Every thing was created through sound effects and movement. Actors would walk across the stage and every time their boots would touch the floor there would be the sound effect of a heavy boots hitting the floor. It must have taken incredible timing on the part of the actor and technician to pull off each movement/sound related event perfectly. Actors would mime pressing doors or moving curtains and the sound would happen. Using you imagination you could imagine the doors and curtains being there. Simply stunning use of sound and the best sound design I have ever seen in a production. It was 100% integrated into the acting/scenery of the pieces and was a huge part of creating the environment of the play. The sounds were run by Jo Bauer and designed by Stefan Rager and Robert Wilson.

The Movement
The movement of his productions is something that Robert Wilson is famous for. I can totally see why now. Every character had an exaggerated movement to them that was truly unique to that character. For some people it was exaggerated high step leg movement, others it was a constant leaning backward and other it was as simple as a constant wiggling of the fingers. The character of Brown constantly kept his fingers wiggling the entire show and Polly was constantly extending her legs and wrapping herself around Macheath.
Polly and Macheath's Wedding. Loved this scene!

It was obvious that the hoods and the hookers were trained dancers because their ability to contort themselves and move across the stage was stunning. Often times scenes would stop in poses with actors legs over their heads. And in the beginning of the show while giant circles of light spun on the scrim the characters all moved across the stage from stage right to left as a presentation during the first song. It reminded me of an exagerated costume parade. We got to see all the characters as they all simply moved across slowly. Macheath was the only character who entered from stage left. We first saw the presentation of his cane as it glowed and then he entered. His movement was very fluid and it was like a snake slither onto stage.

The Acting

One of the actors in this show, Jurgen Hotlz, was almost 80 years old and played Peachum. And you know what- he was fucking amazing. I haven't seen movement or vocals as good as his from 20 year olds in theatre. His talent was huge, he has been a member of the Berliner Ensemble since 2000 and before that was named Germany's actor of the year in 1993. He was stunning as Peachum! I try to think back of what this actor has seen. He was born in Germany in 1932!

Angela Winkler who did Jenny had really interesting movement to her. She only moved in 2 dimensional format. We only saw her move in straight lines across the stage as if she was on rails or something. And her arms were either straight down or bent at a 90 degree angle. Her vocals and facial expressions made Jenny seem insane. To see the movements paired with this child like voice as she and Macheath sang was tragic.

The brothel scene once the red boards fully rose.
Macheath had amazing movement and comedic timing. His legs sometimes seemed not attached to his body because he would sit down and then all of a sudden you would see him contorted around someone with his legs up in the air. He was very funny despite being in German. This was not his first Wilson production as he has worked with him on Black Rider, Alice and Time Rocker before joining the Berliner Ensemble in 1997.

Polly and Macheath's Wedding Night. Benches (that were pews earlier) turned into the bed through the use of a sheet.
The finale where the horseman enters. He is the one in the red.
*As a personal note all the photo rights for this blog post belong to Robert Wilson and the Berliner Ensemble. I do not claim to own them nor profit for them. They are simply here to help educate people on why the show was so awesome!


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