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.**