All images from dialogfestival.pl/en
W. G. Sebald
title of the play: Austerlitz (Austerlicas) |the translator (into performed language): Rūta Jonynaitė (for W. G. Sebald’s texts); Živilė Pipinytė (for K. Lupa’s texts) |author of the adaptation: Krystian Lupa | scenario: W. G. Sebald’s novel “Austerlitz”
directed by: Krystian Lupa | set designer: Krystian Lupa | costume designer: Piotr Skiba |composer: Arturas Bumšteinas | lighting designer: Krystian Lupa | video projections by: Mikas Žukauskas | director’s assistants: Tauras Čižas, Maksym Teteruk (Ukraine)
Valentinas Masalskis – Author Sebald
Sergejus Ivanovas – Austerlitz
Danutė Kuodytė – Nanny Vera
Viktorija Kuodytė – Marie de Verneuil
Jovita Jankelaitytė – Mother Agatha Austerlitzowa
Matas Ddirginčius – Father Maximilian Aichenwald
Girius Liuga – Austerlitz as a child
date of the premiere: 23, 24.10.2020
The Wilie Agency (UK) Ltd. for W. G. Sebald’s text; photographs of Austerlitz as a child and videos filmed in nature by Audronis Liuga; excerpts from film Projections of Life from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; an excerpt from Alain Resnais’ film Last Year At Marienbad.
What I Saw
During his career, Krystian Lupa has created many works inspired by novels. Rilke, Broch, Musil and especially Bernhard have served as his muses. Lupa’s adaptation of W.G. Sebald’s 2001 novel, Austerlitz, was presented at the 10th biennial Dialog Theater Festival in Wrocław, Poland, last October. As was the case with his previous works, prior knowledge of the novel was not required to enjoy the piece. Being open to whatever form these novels take onstage is the experience, without any requirement to somehow “follow” their stories. It’s what being a Lupa fan is all about. And yet…I downloaded Austerlitz onto my Kindle the very night I got back from seeing the play. Somehow his previous pattern of presenting actual scenes from the books while mixing in his own fictionalized additions hadn’t cast the spell they had in the past, when I would leave the theater in a kind of trance after seeing such a melding of the intellectual and the kinesthetic.
Lupa and Sebold are both great admirers of Thomas Bernhard. The three were born within the same decade, Bernhard being the eldest. The latter’s influence can clearly be seen in the novel Austerlitz by the use of precise and clear language when describing the incessant inner thoughts of the protagonist. Lupa’s love for the German Sebald and Austrian Bernhard was quite apparent during a discussion of Austerlitz, the day after his play was presented at the Dialog Festival. What these artists have in common connects them deeply. Each man values memory as a means of creative expression and each lived through WWII as a boy. Jacques Austerlitz, the main character in Sebold’s book, also belongs to this group but with one important difference; his parents were Jews.
The book plot focuses on the four-year-old Jacques Austerlitz in 1941, when he was taken by Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia to England. Adopted and given the name of an austere, childless Welsh minister and his wife, he learns the truth of his identity from his favorite high school teacher. At this moment, Jacques’s life becomes centered on getting answers to questions about what happened to his biological parents.
During the first Act of Lupa’s play we see the narrator and Jacques talking about the latter’s past, present and future with the comfortable short-hand that old friends possess. Lupa does little to turn this conversation into exposition and the two characters barely move from their chairs. The second act is more active as we see Jacques, in memory, approaching the door of a Prague apartment with his own last name above the bell. The person who answers turns out to have been a close friend of his parents as well as his nanny and primary care giver. Act three features Jacques and his girlfriend on a short vacation together, talking about his parents, his inability to be happy and his fear of deeply engaging in a relationship.
Lupa’s faithful, almost meditative presentation of the narrative of the first three Acts of the book takes a surprising turn in Act four. The order and even dullness of the previous Acts implodes when the actor and actress who have been playing small parts throughout the show, as well as Jacques’s parents in scenes narrated by his nanny, are suddenly nude, standing on an elevated kind of slave trading block and answering questions from an SS officer who is Jacques Austerlitz himself. Tortured to be in such a position, bellowing at and belittling his parents, he is finally too overwhelmed to continue and collapses on a chair. His exhausted parents then sit down on the block, asking what this humiliation and debasement is about. The father cries “Why can’t I put my clothes on now? Why? Why?!!!.” This last Act of the play is alarming and brutal and takes the audience by surprise after having been lulled by the faithfulness of Lupa’s previous three Acts to Sebold’s slow, intellectual carving out of Jacques’s lonely life.
During the public conversation about the show, Lupa told several stories from his own life, particularly about when he was very young and WWII was ramping up. His descriptions and memories were candid and completely engaging but, he always ended with “But I digress…”. Did he though? Maybe Lupa’s digressions are really just another word for his work. Surely he is drawn to create plays based on the works of Bernhardt and Sebald because of their own abilities to “digress”, to describe their own memories of this important time in history as if they happened yesterday.
When considering the current political climate of the free world, what better memories to focus on then the rise of a dictator and the genocide of six million people? Sebald’s methodical story telling helps set the scene for Lupa’s dramatic denouement. Pitting Jacques against his doomed parents contrasts so starkly with what we have seen and felt in the three hours before, most particularly because much of what was being discussed between the three sets of two characters was often unclear. And yet. This vagueness seems to have been something Lupa was aiming for, both in his choice of material and the directing of it because it would contrast so sharply with the ending that he invented. There’s nothing like seeing two sobbing, naked actors up on a block, being tortured by their own son in the uniform of a Nazi officer, to wake up an audience. Given the current political state in Poland and around the world, a strong punch to the stomach seems in order and Lupa delivers. Austerlitz is the artist’s call to action.
About the Artist
The Youth Theatre is repertory theatre founded in 1965 and became legendary because of Eimuntas Nekrošius yearly productions. Nekrošius started his artistic carrier in the Youth Theatre under the theatre‘s leadership by his teacher and prominent personality of Lithuanian theatre culture director Dalia Tamulevičiūtė. The performances directed by Nekrosius „The Square“ (1980), „Pirosmani, Pirosmani“ (1981), „The Day Lasts Longer Than a Hundred Years“ (1983), „Uncle Vanya“ (1986), „The Nose“ (1991) in between mid eighties and nineties toured in Moscow, Sankt-Peterburg, Kiev, Tbilisi, Minsk, Tallinn, Belgrad, Parma, Turin, visited Belgium, Holland, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Israel, USA (Chicago, New York), Switzerland, Australia, Columbia, France. Nekrosius left the Youth Theatre in 1991. For 20 years since the end of 1990 the Youth Theatre’s artistic leader was former actor of it’s ensemble Algirdas Latėnas. He turned to direct performances based on world classic as well as natonal and contemporary dramaturgy. Many young Lithuanian directors and actors made they debuts in the theatre during this time. Since 2016 the Youth Theatre artistic leader became theatre critic and producer Audronis Liuga. He started his artistic programme of the theatre’s renewal by inviting prominent Lithuanian and international directors as Eimuntas Nekrošius, Krystian Lupa, Kristian Smeds, Arpad Schilling, Yana Ross, Eric Lacascade, Kirsten Dehlholm, Gintaras Varnas, as well as innovative young Lithuanian artists. Internationally renewed masters new productions compose a core of the repertoire and young Lithuanian talents adding a new value to the Youth Theatre’s present as well as creating it’s future.