Why bother "Playing with Heiner Muller"
Review of the Castillo Theatre play "Playing with Heiner Muller"
The German dramatist, writer, poet and director, Heiner Müller, known for his abstract fragmentary writing is at it again at the Castillo Theatre, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, featuring a tribute to the deceased playwright with Castillo's latest offering “Playing with Heiner Muller.”
Two Heiner Muller plays (“The Task”) followed by “Playing with Heiner Muller,” is rather heavy stuff to digest. What are needed in future are very long time periods between Muller productions.
Directed by Gabrielle Kurlander and using an all-black cast consisting of Fulton Hodges, Ava Jenkins, Sylenia Lewis, Keldrick Crowder and John Rankin who performed in Castillo's last Muller drudgery entitled “The Task,” has “Playing with Heiner Muller” dragging the audience through another dull dramatic parade of historic figures that include Hitler, Hamlet, Stalin and a Prussian Czar, etc.
While I can appreciate Muller's intellectual prowess, his plays are BORING. Or at least the play is boring as presented. I can appreciate how difficult it is to take Heiner’s collage of abstract phrases, parodies and collection of poems and verses and present it in some kind of cohesive form. However, the material is too abstract to entertain a diverse audience even though there are slides of the playwright himself reciting his work.
People go to the theatre to be entertained. To get away from their problems, to laugh, be uplifted and get into a storyline not squirm through a montage of thrown together scenes of suicidal women, disputes over windmills, historic figures and dictators. While there are many who enjoy puzzles how many pay good money to see a play where they are left to figure out what the heck this play is talking about. Not even the unnecessary baring of breasts or occasional comic relief could distract from or bring relief to this fractured production.
The best part of the play is the acting. Kudos to the actors who brought their musical and dancing talents to this God awful splintered material. Their skills made an unbearable viewing more palatable. One wonders why with all the great plays and playwrights and even young aspiring writers hoping to bring their work to a stage, the Castillo Theatre would once again bring us Muller. I hope this is not a theatre loyal only to the works of Heiner Muller since his works oftentimes speak of a very morbid and depressing time in history. I understand those selecting Muller love him but frankly those selecting this material might wish to consider their audience and not drag them through convoluted works that feels like a funeral dirge.
Enough Muller!!!! Please. Give other playwrights a chance. Also, the cast would be better served with material that represents them and allows them to speak in a theatrical voice that serves the entire audience. While it’s a novel idea to cast black actors in white roles, it doesn't work when the roles are specifically for and about white people. Yet the play’s director continues to experiment with African Americans performing as German Nazis and French slave owners who see Black people as less than human. Also, as I noticed via “The Task,” Blacks were depicted in inferior terms with some of the dialogue racist. As I see it, having black actors speaking these lines is insulting to them, the black folks in the audience or anyone who abhors those who think of themselves as superior to others. I know even though I tried to be fair and step away from my angst by examining the creativity of Muller in my last Muller review, I personally felt anger after viewing “The Task” and total boredom watching “Playing with Heiner Muller.”
While I recognize the intellectual method Muller has of crossing space and time, trying to figure out who’s who is challenging and frankly after a while you don't even care. While I realize life in not always perfect or joyous, there are few characters in Playing with Heiner Muller who aren’t haughty and morose, thus leaving the audience with few characters that uplift or inspire.
The day I reviewed “Playing with Heiner Muller” the small audience consisted of what appeared to be friends and family of the cast based on the dialogue I overheard. Behind me I heard snoring and sure enough two of the audience members used their coats as pillows and snoozed their way through the show. Finally I got up and left which I am always hesitant to do but frankly the unbearable darkness of this play became too much to bear.
There is little I can say to redeem this play except if you are a Muller fan, enjoy. If you are not, skip this play.