Die lächerliche Finsternis
Director: Dusan David Parizek
Writer: Wolfram Lotz
Based on: (very, absolutely slightly) Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness
Cast: Catrin Striebeck, Stefanie Reinsperger, Dorothee Hartinger, Frida-Lovisa Hartmann
Seen on: 1.2.2016
Soldiers Pellner (Catrin Striebeck) and Dorsch (Frida-Lovisa Hartmann) are looking for a crazed lieutenant Deutinger (Dorothee Hartinger) in the jungle of Afghanistan, sailing along the Hindukusch. Their voyage brings them through increasingly confusing places and is also somehow connected to the story of Somali pirate Ultimo (Stefanie Reinsperger) who is tried at a German court.
Die lächerliche Finsternis is an attempt at postcolonoal critique that manages to reproduce the very same structures it is trying to condemn, resulting ultimately in an absolute failure.
In the production I saw, all of the parts were played by the four actresses. All four are white. As far as I know there have not been any productions of this that actually include anybody who isn’t white, neither on stage nor off. That is the first point were the play completely undermines its own intentions. If you want to move away from colonial structures, you have to include the perspectives of the (formerly) colonized. Otherwise it just becomes a well-meaning, but condescending exercise in whiteness – which is exactly what happened here.
The play starts with Ultimo’s story. Stefanie Reinsperger (a furiously energetic actress that I would love to see in a different role) delivers his story in Viennese, practically starting with the sentence “I’m a black nigger from Somalia” (“I bin a schwoarzer Nega aus Somalia”). Cue laughter in the audience, 99% of which are white. What is funny here? That a white woman plays a black man? That a black man would speak Viennese (as if there were no black Austrians)? My gut tells me it’s funny because they said “nigger”. Hafuckingha. The audience keeps laughing as Ultimo tells of sexual abuse and death. It’s all so funny. Throughout the story, Reinsperger takes on many roles, most of which are black. And she starts to put on blackface while she’s at it. Shoddily done, exaggerated blackface, just to make sure we understand that this is ironic, right? It’s done in the spirit of criticism, okay?
But I can’t help but wonder: where the fuck is the criticism in that? Without the contrast of an actual black person’s perspective (like it was done in Tropic Thunder, for example), it’s already difficult to pull this off, but here the play veers off in its second topic: theatre itself. It makes none-whiteness a purely performative thing which could be a meaningful comment if the play would have acknowledged that whiteness, too, is just as performative as any other racial/ethnical category (for example by having all white parts played by non-white actresses. Or simply all parts, like they did with gender). But instead of incorporating the construction of race through performance into the play and considering this with a critical eye towards power relations, Die lächerliche Finsternis rather sticks with a literal deconstruction of the stage itself.
There are moments in the play. When Pellner and Dorsch come to the missionary’s village and get a tour by the missionary, for example, the irony works and strikes at the right places. But most of the time both my friend J., with whom I saw it, and I were pretty horrified at what we got to see – and even more so that apparently everybody around us thought that this was great political entertainment. Either we were both missing something, or Die lächerliche Finsternis is above all proof that we have still a long way to go when it comes to postcolonial criticism in Austria.