THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN
By Thomas Mann
A Coproduction of SNG Drama Ljubljana and Slovensko stallion gledališče, TRST
Première September 27, 2014, SNG Drama Ljubljana; November 7th, 2014 Slovensko stalno gledališče, TRS
A Biteater Project Production
Running time 3 hours. Two intervals
WHAT I SAW
As you may know, Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain is a bildungsroman set just before WWI. It features Hans Castorp, a young man who visits his cousin in a sanitorium in the Swiss Alps, only to fall ill and remain at the sanitorium for 7 years. This slow, contemplative production adheres to the plot, focusing on Hans’ education through the complex, multifarious people he meets.
The most defining characteristic of this production is its set, which consists of a cylindrical structure that resembles a large metal tube. As the play begins, the tube is revealed to be made of three parts, each of which rolls to expose a hollow interior. Together, the tube looks like one object, a giant-sized croissant tube. When rolling, it is more like 3 hamster wheels, side by side, half of each covered by metal and the other half completely open, void of even the wheel. The interiors are upholstered with lime green cushions and bedding. Here, the sanitorium patients, dressed in white wintery sweaters, knit-caps, and slacks, enjoy their convalescence. Hans meets the patients early in the first act. Though each has a specific personality, they operate mostly as a chorus, offering our protagonist information collectively, excitedly. Our protagonist also meets one patient, not dressed in white, but smartly suited up: the witty, sardonic Lodovico Settembrini.
As Castorp becomes a patient, he begins having strange dreams that pervade the world of the play. Here it is revealed that there are also multiple trap doors downstage through which actors may enter and exit. In one such dream, most of the cast appears, led by a woman dressed as a commanding officer. The female patients are dressed in suspenders, undershirts and hats, the male patients in lacy boudoir wear. They sing a nightclub song together. Once Castorp wakes, we learn that the commanding officer of his dreams is a patient as well, a beautiful Russian woman named Madame Clavdia Chauchat, whom the doctor offers ‘special treatment.’ She too is costumed differently than the other patients, in darker colors and sharper clothes. Castorp becomes infatuated by Madame Chauchat. An interaction that begins when he asks to borrow a pencil ends in a passionate love-making scene, articulated through the text but performed interpretively.
In the beginning of the second act, Madame Chauchat has left the sanitorium. Castorp’s cousin decides he must also leave, and go off to war, despite the fact that he is not yet well. After his departure, we spend the rest of the act witnessing with Castorp a philosophical argument between Settembrini and Leo Naphta, about capitalism, socialism, religion, and power. This act is very simply staged: each man stands on either side of the metal cylander, interior exposed. Hans sits between them, listening. There are no sound or light cues. As they argue, neither moves. Though Settembrini admits his respect for Naphta, and the pleasure he takes in debating with a man with starkly opposing views and and an intellect to rival his, this act ends in a duel. Naphta shoots himself.
In the third act, Castorp’s cousin returns to the sanitorium. He is very ill, and subsequently dies. What follows is a series of scenes that bleed between reality and dream: characters rise out of the cousin’s grave (one of the downstage traps) to dance and fawn over a new character, named Mynheer Peeperkorn, Madame Chauchat’s new partner. He is charismatic to the extreme, and everyone at the sanitorium is swept up in his charisma. Peeperkorn leads them all in dancing a la 1960s posh pop, bird watching, and drug taking. Castorp admits to Peeperkorn that he had an affair with his new lover, and begs to be forgiven by the man. He is so forgiven, and then Peeperkorn kills himself, or perhaps Castorp kills him. It is unclear. At the play’s end, Castorp is still at the sanitorium, still pondering.
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN:
NUTS AND BOLTS
Cast size and detail: 16
Touring Size: 16 in cast, 21 technicians, 5 escorts, 42 in total
Minimum height/width/depth of stage: 20m, 12m, 18m
Maximum height/width/depth of stage: 20m, 15m, 20m
Load in time: 18 hours
Strike time: 6 hours
Cartage Information: requires puller and truck
Translation options: subtitles/surtitles available
Representation: Jernej Pristov, Public Relations Manager of SNT Drama Ljubljana, +386 31 626 912, firstname.lastname@example.org
Availability: This production is available to tour until at least 2019.
Director: Mateja Koležnik
Koležnik's opus encompasses over 50 productions and she is often also the author of stage designs, adaptations and translations. Koležnik works extensively abroad. Her productions are often awarded. In 2001 she was a recipient of the Prešeren Foundation Award for the productions of Festen and Knife in Hens. She also received four Borštnik Awards (2001, 2004, 2013, 2014), two Golden Lion Awards at the Umag Theatre Festival (1999, 2000) and the Gavella Award (2006).
Theatre: Slovenian National Theatre Drama Ljubljana
Slovenian National Theatre Drama Ljubljana (shortens to SNT Drama Ljubljana) is the oldest theatre institution in the country, founded by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. It is the central Slovenian repertory theatre house and one of the culturally most influential institutions in the region, with a permanent 45-member ensemble. It has won numerous Slovenian and international awards. The outstanding potential of SNT Drama Ljubljana is portrayed by the plays chosen for its repertoire, the directors and their production teams and most importantly, by the artistic interpretations of Drama’s ensemble. In the last two decades, Drama has presented excellent productions in more than thirty countries around the world.
WRITINGS AND REVIEWS
The Magic Mountain. Delo, September 30th 2014, page 16
The Magic Mountain adapted for the stage by dramaturge Katarina Pejovič and directed by Mateja Koležnik is an ingenious monumental fresco of a world troubled by confronting reality. Mann's romanesque mass portraying a remote mountain sanatorium just before World War I, where disease serves the European bourgeoisie as an excuse for luxurious irresponsible idleness and freedom, Pejović moulded into a tight dramatic structure, which through the first hand experience of young Hans Castorp opens essential philosophical and social dimensions of bourgeoisie Europe in the 20th century and beyond. - Nika Arhar
Living in the End Times. Dnevnik, September 29th, 2014, page 23
A universal, classic and reliable text, although a bit dusty from time to time, acquires through directorial nuances a completely contemporary flavour. […] Mateja Koležnik executes the project in a sovereign, accomplished and recognisable style with effective theatrical solutions, autonomous likewise regarding the adaption by Katarina Pejović. […]) Koležnik's characteristic (stenographic) spinning (in collaboration with Henrik Ahr) has changed its direction somewhat: three huge motors of time relentlessly grind (corpses) under their sway, taking them into the netherworld. - Nika Leskovšek
Premiere in Drama Ljubljana. Radio Slovenija, September 28th, 2014, 15.47
The engineer Hans Castorp (played by the brilliant Aljaž Jovanović) is not a classic hero. He is an inquisitive observer travelling through life and not so much focused on an a special idea or purpose in life. We are exposed to a lively layer of upper-class society in the Swiss sanatorium for lung disease. […] The second act is an intellectually sharp, brilliantly performed polemic between the humanist Settembrini (Igor Samobor) and the Jesuit communist Naphto (Marko Mandić). […] An exhilarating performance, as well as a call against the next insane war. - Dušan Rogelj
REFLECTIONS BY KELLIE
My understanding of The Magic Mountain is that it is a contemplative, complex novel that offers a panoramic view of the early twentieth century and digs into the major social, political, and philosophical debates of the time. This piece of theater was equally contemplative, and aimed at achieving a comparable complexity, but as a result was also dull and obtuse. There was a great deal of quiet stillness in this piece, characters who regarded one another coldly, intellectually, which made it very difficult to connect to the characters and care about what was, or rather wasn’t, happening onstage. The various ways in which the cylinder and traps could be used were exhausted by the end of the first act, leaving little possibility for surprise in the second two. It was, quite honestly, very difficult to stay awake throughout.
The one exception to this analysis occurred in the second act, when we were offered an in-depth debate between Settembrini, an Italian secular humanist, and Naphta, a totalitarian Jew-turned-Jesuit. These characters’ well-developed views put in opposition to one another resulted in a fascinating exploration of major tenets of modernist thought. One begins to sense how the application of these perspectives resulted in the decades of wars and conflicts that defined the rest of the twentieth century and into today. I appreciated the director’s willingness to allow the arguments to take center stage here.
I suspect this act worked well because the director deferred to the richness of the text, allowing it to take center stage. I don’t believe this production, on the whole, worked as a piece of theater. The director did not succeed in making The Magic Mountain work in this medium, failing to activate and embody a novel centered on philosophy and interiority. The result was a dry, dull evening of theater that left me annoyed and tired.