Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

This German Playwright's Works May Never Make the Big Screen ; Marius Von Mayenburg Is Determined to Keep Focus on Magic of Theater

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

This German Playwright's Works May Never Make the Big Screen ; Marius Von Mayenburg Is Determined to Keep Focus on Magic of Theater

Article excerpt

Marius von Mayenburg, a writer in residence at the Schaubuhne Berlin is determined to keep his focus on magic of theater.

At the Schaubuhne Berlin theater's rehearsal space in the north of this city, Marius von Mayenburg, one of Germany's most productive, and most produced, contemporary playwrights, looked calm and refreshed after a long day of directing his new play, "Martyr."

For someone whose writing often centers on the brutality that human beings are capable of inflicting -- parents on their children, children on their parents, friends on one another, the strong on the weak and vice versa -- Mr. von Mayenburg, who turns 40 this year, is strikingly personable.

His 2007 play, "The Ugly One," which has its New York premiere on Feb. 1 at Soho Rep, is, as far as his work goes, on the lighter side. A cautionary tale, it tells the story of a talented but physically hideous engineer, Lette, whose boss tells him he can't present the plug he invented at a convention in Switzerland because he's too ugly. Lette, who never realized he was unattractive, decides to take action, and gets radical facial reconstruction surgery. This makes him so good looking that a slew of men, including most of the other characters, decide to get exactly the same face, too, with disconcerting results.

"One of the things I was playing with was this magic trick of the theater, where you say, 'This is the king,' and the actor onstage becomes the king," Mr. von Mayenburg said. "If you say, 'He's not the king anymore,' he's not the king. In our production we had a very good-looking actor, and it really worked. People believed he was ugly."

The idea came to him, he said, while he was directing another play. "I wrote it really fast," he said of "The Ugly One." "I'm always surprised people like it."

But like it they do: Since its debut in 2007 at the Schaubuhne it has been produced in nearly 30 countries, from Tajikistan to Cuba. Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it a "short, sharp chamber piece" during an earlier run at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

Daniel Aukin, who will direct "The Ugly One" at Soho Rep, which is producing it with the Play Company, said he was struck by its incisive take on identity and individuality in today's society. He was also impressed by the way form and content were seamlessly interwoven in the piece. For example, because the plastic surgery makes everyone look the same, only four actors are needed to play eight roles. (In New York they are Andrew Garman, Lisa Joyce, Alfredo Narciso and Steven Boyer, fresh off his acclaimed turn in "Hand to God.")

"This is not a play you would watch and say, 'Oh, this should be a movie,"' Mr. Aukin said. "He's playing with so many things that are unique to theater, that aren't available in other media. …

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