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The Night Show: Handke's Dialogue at the Academy Theatre: Honoring Age or Not

The Night Show: Handke’s Dialogue at the Academy Theatre: Honoring Age or Not

Of course, a new hand makes for a thriving home. High spirits at the Academy Theater in Vienna, especially since the drama “Zwietalk,” which premiered on Thursday, just two days after the Nobel laureate’s 80th birthday, can read as a kind of self-reckoning. Explained case: Two old men, “private fools”, are in dialogue. Or maybe also: a writer still wrestling with himself.

There had been much speculation about this beforehand, and especially since Handke, in a delicate language of his own, peppered with wordplay and quotes from Dante to Freddy Queen, again took up the themes and motifs of his writing. A road leading a “zigzag of life” through the world and through villages, “Zwietalk” tells of love for a grandfather who tortures animals, but also of anger at his own generation, which engaged in “false language,” the propaganda of murderers to whitewash their political deviations. There is talk of a “chronic idiosyncrasy”, of desperation for people and a longing for a home that even theater cannot achieve.

We said and said, in unheimliche Vorgang des Alterns, Naturbetrachtungen, das „drohende“ Politische, von dem ja auch der unberufene Zwischenrufer Handke nicht lassen kann: Immer wieder kreist der Text um das Noch-einmal-Erzählen, das ja stets auch ein neu Einordnen he is. Of course, one could also use this natural elegiac text to discuss how much of Handek’s recent pieces, along with “Zwietalk” and “Zdenek Adamec”, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2020, really need the stage; It seems enough to read dramas.

Elderly care facility as a bracket

But not with director Rieke Süsskow, for her production of “Oxytocin Baby” at the Wiener Schauspielhaus, which won the Nestroy Theater Award for Best Young Talent in mid-November. Handing this production over to the 32-year-old proves to be a shrewd move — on the one hand as he packs the action in front of a wall of shaky folding doors (stage: Miriam Stangl) into ominous choreography. But also and above all because she does not leave the conversation to her grandparents, but builds an intergenerational dialogue through it: “honoring old age” is not appropriate as a guide to action.

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In Süsskow, the two indefinite Handke-speaking speakers become five: three old men stumbling through landscapes of memory (Hans Dieter Niebel, Branko Samarowski and Martin Schwab). In addition, there are two young women (Elisa Bloss and Maryse Regner) who repeatedly usurp the story of grandchildren and grandparents, thus bringing the situation to the here and now. This, as a good, coherent arc, is set in a nursing home, where convicts are sorted out with clever musical games and at the end the last sad player is found at the buffet table. It may not be a coincidence that his constant rebellion can be interpreted as a pitiful cry of an old hand. And with all this, “Zwietalk” is above all a reflection on transience, powerful in words and images, which tells of the endless search for a place in the world and at the same time finally gives room for Handke’s humor: if in your horoscope “you are today “Irresistible,” one must also know: “after a certain age, horoscopes are no longer valid,” she says.

A long, friendly cheer to the terrific group, and also to the leading team, which makes the script lively, modern, and yes: very entertaining with such a mean-spirited and irreverent staging.

a dialogue. Written by Peter Handke. Vienna Academy Theatre. Starting stage: Ricky Susko. Stage: Miriam Stangl. With: Hans-Dieter Nebel, Elisa Plos, Marisie Regner, Branko Samarowski, Martin Schwab. Next dates: December 10, 17, 25, and January 6. www.burgtheater.at