The Master Builder

By Earnest, Steve | Ibsen News and Comment, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Master Builder


Earnest, Steve, Ibsen News and Comment


Berlin, Volksbühne am Rosa Luxemborg Platz

In Repertory, 2015-16

Frank Castorf, the Artistic Director of the Volksbühne, has the reputation of being one of the most daring and radical directors of the twentieth century. Among Castorf's earliest efforts were plays by Ibsen beginning in 1985 with A Dolls House at Theater Anklam (his first resident director position), John Gabriel Borkman in 1991 at Deutsches Theater (a production that was invited to the Theatertreffen), and The Lady from the Sea at the Volksbühne in 1993, his first season as Artistic Director. During his twenty-five-year tenure, he has built a reputation as a "destroyer of texts," and his 2015 production of Baumeister Solness was no exception. Castorf is notorious for his deconstructivist, non-linear style that combines outrage with bold theatrical images, rock music, the interpolation of outside texts, and commentary on external and internal situations in Germany.

One curious element in Baumeister Solness was the inclusion of numerous puppets, which had been prestaged on the entire front row prior to the performance and began to be incorporated into the production throughout. At one point there were over ten puppets (all identical) in a pile. Unclear as to how this helped tell the story of an aging architect infatuated with a younger, teasing woman, I asked the dramaturgy staff at the Volksbühne, which was able to supply an intriguing, comical answer. Evidently, for the past two years, Castorf has been keen on bringing back to the Volksbühne several famous former members of the company, and for the Master Builder, he wanted to include the famous East German actor Henry Hübchen, known for his Lola (the German Oscar) award-winning performance in Go For Zucker (2004). While Hübschen initially agreed to perform the role of Solness, he eventually turned it down, citing the difficulties of the physical activity required by Castorf's work. Evidently Castorf was angered by this, and vowed to include Hübchen in the production anyway, so he then created the twenty Hübchen puppets (along with commentary about the actor and his history at the Volksbühne).

The production's set included the architect's office at stage left, along with a painting of two erotic female nudes in the room's center, and stage right included a kitchen. There was a larger projection/ playing area above two lower level spaces that could be accessed by ladders both stage right and left. Unlike so many previous Castorf productions at the Volksbühne, this one employed videos only minimally, but the acting was typical. Castorf employs three basic styles of acting: a very realistic, filmic style, which often involves cameras onstage; a flamboyant style that roughly approximates Reichskanzlerstil, the style used during the Third Reich, in which actors scream for extended periods of time and use exaggerated facial and arm gestures; and a direct delivery that comments on certain moments in the play, asks for the audience's responses, and basically steps outside the story to comment on the text, society, or something else. …

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