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James Brown Wears Hair Curlers – Theater at Vienna's Der Josefstadt – Sandra Cervik takes Yasmina Reda's play from the cheerful side

James Brown Wears Hair Curlers – Theater at Vienna's Der Josefstadt – Sandra Cervik takes Yasmina Reda's play from the cheerful side

Comedy of troubled parents

February 16, 2024. Two young men who deviate from the norm in their search for identity and their troubled parents are the components of Yasmina Reda's latest play. Sandra Cervik turned it into a comedy at the Der Josefstadt Theater.

By Reinhard Krichbaum

February 16, 2024.“Neither is intimidated by biology,” says the psychiatrist. Not Jacob, who has been obsessed with Celine Dion since early childhood. He's completely slipped from role-playing into his new identity: he's now Celine Dion. The second person whose biology is undermined is Philip: a white man who identifies as black. Two of them do not fit at all into the bourgeois society of supposed “ordinary intellectuals” whom Yasmina Reda likes to clash with her knife in her plays. The two young men are now in the “institution”.

A political theme in the form of a chamber play

Fluid gender identity and cultural appropriation. This creates expectations that Yasmina Reda failed to fulfill in her latest play. It is no coincidence that almost all the reviewers of the German-language premiere in March 2023 at the Residenztheater in Munich wrote a lot about Philipp Stölzl's surrealist direction and did not burn their sharp pen when it came to Reza's own theatrical text. It smoothly glides across all curves and completely rejects the rough edges of social and even socio-political discourse.

What would be the point if the current state of political correctness and vigilance were also negotiated? “James Brown wore hair curlers” reduces the young man's supposed “distress” to his parents' disappointment. Lots of experienced dialogue skills, pretty much without attacking under the skin. Deficiencies in the text have been noted because the staging in Josefstadt's chamber plays is directed by an actress less concerned with perspective of content than with comic effectiveness. Sandra Cervik does everything she can to get her Josefstadt bandmates to give a comedic performance.

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Banging accusations and metaphors

So, Maria Koestlinger and Jürgen Maurer are allowed to savor all the clichés of a stressed-out pair of parents overwhelmed by the situation. Sometimes overexcited, sometimes angry, sometimes pushy, sometimes defiant. Everything comes as clockwork – and as expected. I've rarely laughed so shallowly. Alexandra Kreismer is a psychiatrist. This would be the person who, with his unpredictability of Dada, could become a catalyst for the discourse. Here she was, ready to explode, in a very lost position.

James Brown 2 1200 MoritzschilAllies: Dominique Ole (Philip) and Julian Valerio Rehrl (Jacob) © Moritz Schiele

Julian Valerio Rehrl looks dreamy in the sky as Jacob/Céline. The sky-blue pantsuit, poncho-like cape, and scarf—it's all Celine Dion from top to bottom. The tender relationship between the two friends is beautifully highlighted. Nor will Philip (Dominic Ollie) dissuade him from his chosen path. It's touching how the two caress the strange plant that only grows in one direction (warning, metaphor!).

Touching moments

Interior designer Sabine Freud presented a white room that resembled a lined cell. Jacob/Selene is always there, but most of the time the parents don't notice him. Clearly: you don't want to see it. He repeatedly approaches his father and mother, secretly asking for little attention and loving care. These are some touching moments.

James Brown wore curlers
Written by Yasmina Reda, and by the French, Frank Haibert and Heinrich Schmidt Henkel
Directed by: Sandra Cervik, Set Design: Sabine Freud, Costumes: Aleksandra Kika, Music: Iva Jančić, Lighting: Sebastian Schubert, Dramaturgy: Barbara Novotny.
With: Julian Valerio Reher, Maria Koestlinger, Jürgen Maurer, Dominik Uhle, Alexandra Kresmer.
Premiere: February 15, 2024
Duration: 1 hour and 35 minutes, without intermission

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www.josefstadt.org