Tuesday, June 26, 2018

They Divided The Sky

Photo by Patrick Boland

Daniel Schlusser Ensemble presents, THEY DIVIDED THE SKY, a novel by Christa Wolf, adapted for the stage by Daniel Schlusser, in the Downstairs Belvoir St Theatre. 13 - 30 June.

THEY DIVIDED THE SKY, is a new Australian play, based on an East German book (1963), by novelist Christa Wolf, adapted for the stage by Daniel Schlusser, as an exploration by the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble from Melbourne. This Ensemble has been working since 2009 and has developed a particular formula to investigate for the theatre. Mr Schlusser in interview has talked of the 'protective' nature that overcame him during the rehearsal process of preserving the language of Ms Wolf. He admits to having, unusually, for his process, a proliferation of words/language in his scenario. It is the words, handled so well by the actors, that compels one to endure.

At Belvoir during three weeks in the month of June, Mr Schlusser, working with two outstanding actors, Stephen Phillips (Manfred) and Niki Shields (Rita) has developed a physical language and mode of performance - a hyper-theatrical tension of reality that has a self-conscious awareness of its stylistic explorations, incorporating, knowingly, a very vivid and character-filled, demanding of attention, Composition and Sound Design, by James Paul, with the deliberate punctuations/punch into the action by the Lighting Design of Amelia Lever-Davidson.There is 'ego' in the Directorial conceits in this production that draws, deliberately, our attention to the affects.

This Ensemble has a self aware stylisation - very, dare I say: a Melbourne one? It is a mode of performance that is conscientiously non-realist/non-naturalistic and so provokes an entry into the performance from the audience that is off-kilter, in my instance, even a slightly arch one. We can sit cooly outside it all, objectively, while been fascinated by the dilemmas of the two characters (and some of the people about them). And it is, the spoken text and bold commitment of the actors that brings focus and acceptance of the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble's 'tricks' into an, ultimately, satisfying time in the theatre. One can simultaneously, sag with anticipatory loathing' at the sight of the familiar modern Design trope of a white bath tub that fills with water, in this black four-sided space (Set Design, by Robert Cousins), and cringe when each of the actors, predictably, sink into the water fully clothed - metaphor, I guess - and yet, still, enjoy the drama that winds onwards. It is the extraordinary 'chemistry' between the two actors and the mutual belief in all that is asked of them, that demands subjective experiencing and acceptance of all that we are given to digest.

Basically, narratively, we watch the metamorphosis of Rita and Manfred's love affair over many years, from the original giddy rush of infatuation to the discordant philosophical differences of life in maturity, that will separate them in the dramatically charged place of East Berlin in the time of the ultimate clash between Capitalism and Communism with the physical construct of the Wall in August, 1961, that will divide the city and these two protagonists. They both must make a choice. This is the kind of 'love' story we have seen many times, concerning the conceit of time passing and the effect of that time on the characters. I was reminded of the Russian Alexi Arbuzov's play THE PROMISE, in which the three protagonists change and challenge each other in their personal relationships during the Russian post World War II struggles to the launch of Sputnik into space.

Christa Wolf lived in East Berlin most of her life, acted for the Stasi, and became one of the most important voices of that culture in the novelistic form. Originally translated as DIVIDED HEAVEN, this new play has been inspired by the recent translation by Luis Von Flotow.

Arresting. Interesting. For thoughtful theatre experiencers.

P.S. Note that, unfortunately, Christa Wolf gets no biographical space in the program. Just saying.

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