John Gabriel Borkman Reconceived in Germany

By Carlson, Marvin | Ibsen News and Comment, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

John Gabriel Borkman Reconceived in Germany


Carlson, Marvin, Ibsen News and Comment


Hamburg Statstheater, Theatretreffen, Berlin, May 6-22, 2015

Vienna Festwochen, May 28-June 20, 2015

Ibsen remains one of the classic authors most regularly revived on the German stage, although often in a form that comes close to unrecognizable by AngloSaxon audiences. Clear examples of both his popularity and his re-conception by German directors appeared in the spring of 2015, when John Gabriel Borkman was a central offering in the two most prestigious festivals of the German-speaking theatre: the Berlin Theatertreffen and the Vienna Festwochen. Although the two productions were enormously different, neither of them remotely resembled the sort of professional revival of this work one might see in London or New York. Both were, on the contrary, clear examples of what the Germans call Regie-theater (director's theatre) in which the director uses a preexisting text as the foundation for a production that departs sharply from production tradition or even the apparent original concept of the play in order to make social, political, or aesthetic points.

One might expect in the era of late capitalism that German directors might be attracted to Borkman (as many recently have been) because of its economic concerns, but that is not the case with either of these productions. What seems to have attracted the two directors is the powerful emotional currents in the play, the struggle for control, extending almost to vampirism, and the monumentality of especially the three central characters.

By far the more successful of the two was that presented in Berlin. It was from the State Theatre in Hamburg and was directed by Karen Henkel, one of the best known and most honored of contemporary German directors, having been invited to the Theatertreffen six times in the past decade, always with striking re-interpretations of classic works-among them Chekhov, Shakespeare, and Hauptmann. The focus of this production is very much upon the power struggles of the play, especially between the two sisters.

From the very beginning we are plunged into a kind of horror film. Instead of the two levels of the Borkman home, the stage, designed by Katherine Nottrodt, suggests a dimly lit subterranean hall, its dark curtains covering only stone walls, its floor a series of rising steps converging, with walls and ceiling, toward a smaller interior stage where at the beginning, the illuminated figure of Borkman lies as if already in his tomb. The rest of the stage is at first in darkness, except for two burning candelabras downstage right and left. Mysterious sounds fill the air, as if in a haunted house-rumblings and crashings (including the reverberating footsteps of Borkmann, here not pacing but calculatedly pounding on the floor as a torment to Gunhild below). There is mysterious sepulchral music. The small organ on the wall to the left is primarily played not by Frida but by Gunhild, mostly music of a religious flavor. There is a small square opening in the ceiling with a strong white downlight in it, allowing various actors to stand in its glow for particular effect.

Borkman is played by the normally corpulent Josef Ostendorf, best known for his comic roles in many of Christoph Marthaler's productions, and here made even larger, almost to cartoonish proportions, by body padding. In keeping with the production's shift to the struggle for power and control, however, he is from the beginning quite overshadowed by the two sisters Ella (Lina Beckmann) and Gunhild (Julia Wieninger) and their ongoing conflict. These, in different ways, are as grotesquely exaggerated as Borkman, especially Ella, whom Beckmann portrays in a shambling, disjointed manner as if her body were not properly put together. When she appears in Borkman's room, however, and recalls their former passion in an apparent attempt to win his support, she manages to twist this awkward body into a series of grotesque imitations of classic seduction poses that reveal in fact an enormous physical control and flexibility and earn her a well-deserved burst of applause. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

John Gabriel Borkman Reconceived in Germany
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.