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May 2002 - Nr. 5


The Editor
Vorsicht Satire!
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Die Alte Dame
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Gone Fishing
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Der Nürburgring
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"Hesse Year"
German Beer Day

Der Besuch der Alten Dame

German Theatre at U of W

by Herwig Wandschneider

Herwig Wandschneider

Just mention the name Dürrenmatt and you are asked, if you are heading out to get depressed. Not sure why. Dürrenmatt thought of it as a comedy. And it seems, so do most Swiss. And a tragic comedy it surely is. Reminiscent of O.J. Simpson in reverse.

If not for the overall theme – that you can buy „justice" with hard cash with the result that the entire population of a town is willing to execute a previously popular lifelong citizen of this town – the play is humorous with its interspersed light-hearted lines that break-up the multiple human miseries. Human weaknesses such as the denial of fatherhood and bribing of witnesses - Alfred -, the victim turning to prostitution for survival - Claire -, her lifelong search for the witnesses in far away lands such as Canada and their blinding and castration, finally the ultimate „success" and Alfred’s execution in return for that Billion in cash. We are simply all rotten to the core.

Dürrenmatt surely achieves what he sets out to do: to shock the audience into understanding reality using exaggerations. The tragedy in this comedy forces us to face the fact that these events are realistic enough in concept, which makes it sometimes hard to laugh at the humour in the play and at our horrible weaknesses.

foreground: Bernd Hartmann (Alfred), Dr. David John (radio reporter), Lori Heffner (Claire - Die Alte Dame)  [Photo: Herwig Wandschneider]

Produced by Diana Killinger and Lori Heffner, and directed by Diana Killinger, both also acted in the play. Lori did a very credible portrayal of Claire, albeit it was somewhat difficult to see her as old as the "Old Lady" or "Alfred" (Bernd Hartmann) in his 70’s. As the lover’s "Wildkätzchen" as she liked to be called by Alfred, Lori came across charming and seductive and at first you could feel the potential for a reconciliation. It soon became clear that the "Wildkätzchen" had so hardened in her resolve over the decades that there was no doubt she was out to get satisfaction.

Bernd’s task to transfer from a man still in love with her at old age to progressive fear and eventual resignation was well executed. And the "Lehrerin" (Leslie John) hilariously drowned her frustration in glass after glass, as the outcome was no longer in question.

What made this play so rewarding was not only the acting, but also the impeccable German of so many actors and actresses (not necessarily all), and the team of professors in some of the supporting roles.

The play was sponsored by the Consulate of Switzerland and others and performed at the Theatre of the Arts at the University of Waterloo. There were two performances, one at 2 pm and one at 8 pm, April 6.

The next day, the "Deutsche Theater Toronto" put on a play in Toronto: "Das Lebenslängliche Kind" by Robert Neuner (alias Erich Kästner). It also dealt with human weaknesses, but of a lighter kind. It happened to turn into a hilarious comedy, bis die Tränen liefen. And, in contrast to Dürrenmatt’s "Besuch der Alten Dame", this one had a happy end. New talent in the group was Christian Schoepke (Dr. Scheinpflug).

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