Thomas Bernhard found nothing "more odious" than the theatre, but, as one of the characters in Ritter, Dene, Voss voices "we have to make the best of what we find odious." Lupa does just that as he continues to transfer Bernhard from page to stage.
Photograph from a performance of "The Lime Works", photo: Instytut Teatralny
Polish theatre director Krystian Lupa has so far adapted five works by the Austrian provocateur for the Polish stage: plays Immanuel Kant, Over All the Mountain Tops, Ritter, Dene, Voss, and the novels The Lime Works and Extinction. Now, at the beginning of Janaury 2014, he is adapting the Austrian's work for the Austrian public for the first time. A difficult task one may think, "In Austria his books are read like a pamphlet about Austrianness," Lupa wrote, "a manner of understanding history or a system of values that is typical for that nation, and one that is constantly questioned by Bernhard". But the Pole is an authority on Bernhard.
When Lupa read Bernhard for the first time he was already an accomplished director. Bernhard "was a completely unexpected discovery" Lupa says in an interview for the Schauspielhaus Graz blog. The book was The Lime Works (Kalkwerk) and it prompted him to arrange "Lime Work workshops". The piece gave the young actors who attended the workshops an incentive to expand their limits and search for new ways of expression that go beyond the spoken word. Enthralled by the discovery, Lupa wrote a letter to Bernhard. Before he had a chance to regret his move, thinking that he may have acted too rashly, the Austrian replied. "Very friendly, no not very friendly, more politely, but coldly, that it was impossible for The Lime Works to be adapted for the stage" Lupa revealed, "He said he writes plays for the stage and novels for reading." At the end he mentioned that he might turn the novel into a play himself. But he never did, as he died one year later.
In the end, Lupa adapted The Lime Works for the stage in Poland in 1992. Performed at the Narodowy Stary Teatr, the show ended up touring Europe and making it across the ocean as the first Polish play invited to New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Festival in 2009. Though "Mr. Lupa’s aesthetic is one that will probably prove demanding even to local theatregoers with adventurous tastes" as the New York Times review wrote, "This is all-bran European theatre, requiring much chewing and devoid of artificial sweetening" his signature production left a strong impression on the American public.
Lupa and Bernhard appear to be a perfect match. Bernhard's writing concerns the human being and its relations with others. His work is influenced by the feeling of being abandoned and shows death as the ultimate essence of existence. For Lupa. "Theatre should be a bridge to the land of spirituality", says actor Piotr Skiba, who has been working with he director for years, "Lupa does not create situational theatre. Rather, he leads his actors through issues, subjects, tasks. Situations are something final, ultimate." Writing for Le Figaro, Armelle Heliot elaborates on the connection,
Between the Polish artist, master of adaptation whose work enlightens all of Europe, Krystian Lupa, and the Austrian writer who disappeared almost 25 years ago, Thomas Bernhard, there is a deep brotherhood, a unique understanding.
Krystian Lupa, "Ritter, Dene, Voss", photo: Marek Gradulski / Cyfrowe Muzeum Teatru Starego in Krakow
Extinction, considered one of Lupa's most important plays is simultaneously a noteworthy play in Bernhard's repertoire of critique of the Austrian and particularly Viennese society. ""The Austrian nation has taken a path of falsehood: one of silence, [...], denial of having anything to do with the crimes" Lupa commented. Following its Polish premiere in 2001, the performance came to the Paris Odeon. While Le Monde praised Lupa for the adaptation of the particularly heavy work, the director called it his literary "tower of Babel", a novel which he could come back several times again and make into an entirely new play.
Photograph from "Extinction", photo: Instytut Teatralny
Lupa is chairman of the Austrian Thomas Bernhard private foundation and in Graz he is staging a novel that caused an uproar among parts of Viennese society when it was published in 1984. Holzfällen, (English title: Woodcutters or Cutting Timber: An Irritation) is shown at the Schauspielhaus on the 29th of January. The novel is an account of a sophisticated, "artistic" dinner, gathering the Viennese elite, which shows nothing more than their pretentiousness and intellectual inconsistency. The almost four hour long performance is a fresh adaptation, a reconstruction of Bernhard "from the inside", Johannes Silberschneider playing the central role of the narrator says in an interview with Michaela Mottinger , "we are undoing Bernhard's rug and weaving it anew. I have rarely taken part in such interesting, highly sensitive rehearsals".
Go to the Graz Schauspielhaus website
Photograph from "Over All the Mountain Tops", photo: press materials
Woodcutters will be played in Poland in March 2014 at the Festiwal Sztuk Przyjemnych i Nieprzyjemnych in Lodz and in October Lupa plans on adapting the novel for the Polish public at the Teatr Polski in Wrocław.
Author: Mai Jones 17.01.2014
Sources: Graz Schauspielhaus website, graz Schauspielhaus blog, New York Times, New York Times, Le Figaro, Union Theatres website, Polish article by AL