In his most famous work on aesthetics, The Poetics, Aristotle argues that for a drama to be effective it must display “unity of time”; the events depicted in the narrative must take place over no more than twenty-four hours. Viewing Georgia Gardner Gray’s play Schaumstoff Laden in the crowded courtyard of Berlin’s ACUD, it’s surprising how much the work connects to this classical notion, but, of course, with a twist. Rather like La Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Goddard’s famous observation that while a film may need a beginning, a middle and an end, they need not occur in exactly that order, Gray’s play is so unified, even compressed in its temporal frame that one barely notices that it seems to take place entirely out of time altogether. Produced by Elodie Evers, Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, Schaumstoff Laden melds past, present, and silver future into a strange but intoxicating happy-hour cocktail that is among the purest theatrical products of the Youtube age.
Gray might well have skipped the bit in Aristotle’s book where he describes the concepts of unity of place and unity of action. The narrative of Schaumstoff Laden —paradoxically loose, but also supremely focussed —follows the fortunes of the titular Schaumstoff Laden outlet, which for English-speaking readers, that would translate to something like “Foam Emporium”. The proprietor, played hilariously by artist and writer Pablo Larios, is a man with a plan, but it’s a pretty crap plan, as he frequently has to offer the affections of his companion and shop assistant, Penny (Preston Chaunsmlit), as additional incentive to prospective customers. Dramatic tension, or at least narrative propulsion, hinges on the romantic pinnings of Laden’s sappy next-door neighbour, performed by Patrick McGraw, who pines away for Penny even as she obviously prefers the vastly more charming and well-heeled disco prince, Mr. El Coco, a truly discriminating schaum-buyer. There’s action aplenty but very little of it makes any pretence to unity. For example, a group of chimney sweeps turn up to buy schaums and then disappear. A boy in a plastic bubble (Billy Rennekamp) wanders into the shop only to have his bubble burst and perish, but not without knowing the transports of pleasure afforded by having a good schaum to sit on.
If you’re looking for gritty realistic drama, well, you have other options, but if you’re looking for a piquant soup of references and comic registers, then Schaumstoff Laden has significantly more to offer. The camp exuberance of the roughly 70-minute play is infectious; if you don’t find something to smile at you probably don’t deserve to have a face. In noting the trashy treasury that Schaumstoff Laden embodies, it would be remiss not to mention Leila Hekmat and Mia von Matt, the costumiers for the show. There is definitely a more-is-more dynamic at work in the sartorial presentation of the characters. McGraw’s preposterous ‘poet’ outfit is hilariously proximal to something out of Jean Renoir’s Children of Paradise, and the bubble boy’s plastic protection module is pathetic in the best possible sense of the term.
Schaumstoff Laden manages a complex trick of combining this kind of camp froth with genuinely thought-provoking structure. The mention of Aristotle and classical drama references are far from out of place with regard to Gray’s play —it should be noted that perhaps the biggest laugh of the night came in response to the skilful deployment of a line from a Shakespeare sonnet. If one chooses to look more deeply into the Laden there is much to find in the vaults. What does unity of time mean, for example, in a digital age in which all of history is a double-click away? If all time is flattened, what is the value of presenting a unified temporality on the stage? This is not the kind of question that has an answer, perhaps, only ripostes, and Gray’s play represents an instance of how one responds to unanswerable ones. Like her protagonist Penny disappearing into the hunky arms of Mr. El Coco, one cannot hope to master or tame time, but merely to make the most of it.**
Header image: Georgia Grey, ‘Schaumstoff Laden’ (2016). Performance film still. Courtesy of ACUD, Berlin.share news item
The evening is named The Long Troll and perhaps references that Segal is reading from a novel-in-progress, as the press release mentions, turning the book into something that seeps out publicly, slowly as it forms.
There are excerpts of the book currently on show in the Foreword exhibition by artists Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, whose work the Frieze article ‘Network Fatigue‘ talks about. Henkel and Pitegoff will join Segal on the evening to discuss ideas around ‘shared fictions’ and creative economies.
See the Witte de With event page for more details**share news item
The collective was established in 2013 by American artists Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, basing itself within a converted storefront in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood and putting on a series of plays relying heavily on “the ethos of community theater” and built on collaboration with other artists, musicians and writers, including The End of Love.
Their performances at the Whitney Museum consist of two presentations of their play Apartment (Mother Courage), a series of performances in the public spaces of the Museum, and the publication of a limited-edition book of the group’s selected works.
See the event page for details. **share news item
New Theatre brings a new musical to its stage, titled Hotel Moon and running at the Berlin space from March 12 to March 18.
The now completely sold-out musical play was written by the collaborative American duo Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff in conjunction with associate editor of Frieze d/e Magazine (and BCR host) Pablo Larios, and features musical direction by French-Canadian artist Dan Bodan and Trevor Lee Larson of YYAA Recordings, as well as performances by sixteen different artists.
By way of description, the musical only offers this short, abstract text:
And the people,
They say to themselves
Nothing but time here.
Nothing but time behind ‘em.
Sure, they coulda had more.
So there’s a kind of… restlessness…
See the New Theatre website for details. **
Four-artist group show Never Can Say Goodbye is opening at Essen’s New Bretagne Belle Air, running from February 21 to March 3.
The exhibition brings together Düsseldorf artist duo Henning Fehr and Philipp Rühr again, who have worked together on over a dozen exhibitions and projects, including contributions in the recent “Keine Kontrolle / No Control” exhibition catalogue for Bonner Kunstverein and a film screening at LA’s M/L Art Space for Das Gesamtsexwerk.
Showing their latest work, ‘TERROR. A Film About The Statues Of Liberty’, the artists will be joined by Berlin artist duo and New Theater founders Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, who will be exhibiting new “luminous” bench installations whose use is left up to the viewer.
See the exhibition FB page for details. **
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Attendance at Berlin’s New Theater events always seems to exceed capacity. A one night only performance of The End of Love, written and directed by venue founders Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, takes this trend to extremes. Some of those attending tonight fill the seating area like a liquid. The rest are squeezed out and pushed into the bar or spill out onto the rainy street. Once the curtains open, oblivious chit-chat from outside contributes to the foley sound and these often filmic interjections occur as if they’d been scripted. A North American whine sounds louder than anything on stage saying, “I’m leaving tomorrow.” The audience titters. Someone answers, “perfect.”
The play begins with our leads; bratty expat siblings, ‘Scott’ (Skye Chamberlain) and ‘Lucy’ (Leila Hekmat) who find out that their parents have died and they’re now the heirs to the Parisian bookstore where the play is set. An artistic collaboration, the setting is an ensemble of art pieces and their artist creators. Six posters by Lucy Stahl hang stage-left to advertise the readings to come. A framed poster by Stephen G. Rhodes to the right reads “learn to read god damn it”. The painted backdrop of dusty bookshelves, a spiral staircase by Chamberlain and Patrick Armstrong sets the scene; prop elements, a book and pencil from Sara MacKillop laying on Lucy’s desk add complexity to detail.
Many of those who created the pieces for the set return to the stage as a cast of functional clichés: David Lieske as ‘Tall Jerry’ , Mia Goyette as ‘Browser’, Mia Von Matt and Florian Ludwig with their own first names. Each delivers a line or two before taking their place, perched on Scott’s ladder, curled around Lucy’s feet. All of them remain as further amendments to the ever-changing stage set installation.
The script itself is sparse. Most of the dialogue is one-sided correspondence, like Scott’s letter to his deceased mother, and Lucy’s emails to a Florian who “never writes back.” Melodramatic monologues, “some day I’ll explain to you the way, the way you left me, like some royal child lost to the revolution”, offers a profound-sounding nonsense and sits adjacent to six artist readings, for which the play is an elaborate vehicle. Taking her place in a rocking chair built by Florian Auer out front, Hanne Lippard is the first to read. Her spoken astrological predictions, a successful performative gesture, strike a balance between content and delivery enabling her to top Scott, Lucy and the audience. The latter yawns, aweless, while handing out baguettes and saying, “this bookstore is boring.” Scott barrels ahead on his trajectory of progress and improvement: “I replaced your coffee maker with a strobe light.”
Pippin Wigglesworth‘s reading, which comes out like a barrage of rhetoric spat directly onto the stage, sounds like a retort. Even so, Scott and Lucy’s performance of indifference is already reflecting into the audience, which is too large, too loud and too unruly for the tiny theatre with its even tinier PA. Between readings, ‘Flower Boy’ Georgia Gray parades increasingly embellished flower ornaments of her own creation onto the set. Reciting French as if she were reading it from a cheese packet, her offerings are hung on a ladder, dropped under a table, with elaborate nonchalance. It’s all part of a seemingly deliberate stylistic irreverence.
The phony French accent of Jack Gross’ ‘Pierre’, our bookish Parisian who is ordered by Scott to “stop browsing” in order to look for a screw, falters when he answers Pablo Larios‘ reading of a melancholy love story set on the Rhine asking, “is this an autobiography?” It’s a question put to the entire performance. Set in Paris rather than Berlin, it’s one of imperialist ex-patriotism that pokes at the German city’s exile art scene from a safe distance, yet the comparisons are unmissable. Pierre’s accent and appreciation for literature, marking him as foreign even as he plays a native Parisian, is a bite on most every expat scene in Berlin, where being a ‘true Berliner’ has become an exotic subjectivity.
By the time Maxwell Simmer arrives on stage to read, form has succeeded in dominating content. Edging towards parody, off-stage expressions of dramatic restlessness become more frequent and increasingly difficult to ignore. The audience’s refusal to quit performing seems to be met with a certain unwillingness by the readers to perform in kind. Lucy noisily rips pages from a book, Scott tyrannically fusses over a mirror ball. Bottles and glasses smash in domino-effect from the audience.
Reading the last piece from the very back of the stage is Goyette. Before her words reach the second row they’ve been swallowed by the milieu. Whether by design or fault or contingent inevitability, the mise en scène of New Theater is so convincing that anything occurring in its vicinity – unscripted interjections and accidents of smashing glass, a flower sculpture dropped under a chair – is easily absorbed into the drama of its collaborative performance. In another context, every detail could succeed as a stand-alone piece, in this space they acquiesce to the collaboration, forming a persuasively layered ambience; the audience included. At New Theater, just by being there you get the feeling that you are taking part in something, something that is happening. **