November 10, 2007

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) November 10, 2007

Troupe dispels notions of heavy German theater

Saturday, November 10, 2007
By David Cuthbert

If we haven't visited a country, what do we know about it? In the case of Germany -- besides World War II -- there are its cultural exports, especially the influential German cinema directors (Pabst, Murnau, Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders) and German Expressionism, the visual template for decades of horror films.

In German Theatre Abroad's frisky, theatrically adventurous "Start Up," by Roland Schimmelpfennig, which had its single performance Wednesday at the Contemporary Arts Center, three young Germans roam America, where they hope to start a new theater.

The German and American characters relate to each other through the shared experience of movies, mostly American ones, although their would-be landlord does mention "Das Boot." The Germans are fixated on the America of John Ford Westerns, Elvis, romantic farewell close-ups and the American Movie Dream that "everyone gets their chance in this country!"

Director Ronald Marx has expanded on this theme visually by pre-filming and taping parts of the play, and imaginatively using live, on-the-spot video, beginning with the company's green bus pulling into the CAC warehouse. We've all seen multimedia projects, but this was multiple-multimedia, playing with an already Pirandellian-skewed reality, since the actual theater company is taking the same trip as its characters.

Schimmelpfennig's plot has Rob and Micha trying to rent space from American Ike for their "cultural laboratory," although they don't have the necessary start-up money. Rob, in fact, is growing faint from hunger. Micha has a secret stash of Snickers and Peanut Butter Cups, so has the energy to accommodate Ike's forward daughter Liz who jumps him, tearing his clothes off. Meanwhile, back in the bus, live on video, Ike and the German Kati are getting acquainted as Ike reveals his obsessions with movie-perfect teeth and of restarting a video store that once occupied the space. There's a lecture on D-Day, the Marshall Plan, the Cold War and criticism of the war in Iraq before we get back to our story, in which Kati abandons her friends to stay with Ike, while Liz joins the boys as they take off for "Paris, Texas" -- the troupe's actual next stop, an homage to the Wenders film.

Some of the early "Start Up" clips are hard to understand and don't add much. However, the coordination of the live action, video, sound, music and lights, is impressive and great fun.
Roland Sands grounds the play as Ike, with a commanding voice and innate likability; America at its best. Myxolydia Tyler, as his beautiful, brazen daughter Liz, is the brash New World seducing the Old (à la "Lolita"). Nicolai Stegeler is the sturdy, naively serious Micha and Nils Nellessen the cheerfully boyish, famished Rob, who has "gone American" in a hippie shirt and cowboy boots. His resemblance to the young Montgomery Clift doesn't hurt, either. Lisa-Marie Janke is a striking brunette whose tough demeanor softens as she bonds with Ike.

"Start Up" dispels the notion of "Germanic" being dark and heavy. Here's hoping that this creative company returns for a longer stay.


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