Die Unschuldigen, ich und die Unbekannte am Rand der Landstraße [The Innocents, I, and the Unknown Woman at the Edge of the Country Road]

Die Unschuldigen, ich und die Unbekannte am Rand der Landstraße
Director: Claus Peymann
Writer: Peter Handke
Cast: Christopher Nell, Martin Schwab, Maria Happel, Regina Fritsch, Felix Strobel, Fabian Stromberger
Seen on: 6.3.2016

A young man, introducing himself as I the Narrator (Christopher Nell), claims a bit of country road for himself. It’s his bit of the world and his alone, without anybody else interfering. But it doesn’t stay that way for very long. Soon others, the Innocents, come and intrude on his bit of the world, led by the Capo (Martin Schwab) and his wife (Maria Happel). Among them is also an enticing Unknown Woman (Regina Fritsch) who is not quite as taken with I as he is with her. While I maybe wouldn’t mind the intrusion of the Unknown Woman, the rest of the Innocents and the inevitabilty with which they are irritates I.

Die Unschuldigen, ich und die Unbekannte am Rand der Landstraße is a little how all the derogative views on modern theater say that modern theater is like: incoherent, overly long, self-congratulatory and often incomprehensible. It does have strengths, but they are far from outweighing the weaknesses.


I don’t mind modern theater. In fact there are excellent modern productions. I have seen them. They exist. They can be great. But in my experience all too often they forget that in the end, a play is an act of communication with the audience. And the audience should be able to decipher that communication. In this case it felt too me like the audience who is supposed to actually understand what’s happening on the stage is one that has spent a considerable amount of time with the works of Handke and Peymann so far, and with the play’s text in particular, too (and even then you have to really, really want to get into it). Which, you know, is a choice you can make – not every communication must be understandable for all persons in the world (as if that was even possible). But if you make it quite so narrow, not only will a lot of people leave scratching their heads and most likely not willing to actually put in any more work with the play, but you will come off as smug and condescending.

That’s the feeling with which I left the theater after 3 hours of incoherent scenes with beautiful prose that seemed to maybe have meanings buried somwhere at which I couldn’t get – apart from the flattest messages like “we can’t exist without others”. Everything felt inflated and empty, even though it was certainly wrapped in a very nice package.

die_unschuldigen1Part of that package was a great stage design that was simple, yet impressive, and brilliant performances, especially by Christopher Nell who has a lot to carry in the play and never gets tiring to watch, but above all Maria Happel (once more) steals every second she is on that stage. She is simply an amazing comedian and provided much relief in all that earnest (apparent?) non-sense.

I hadn’t seen a Handke play before this and I doubt that this was a good start to get acquainted with his work. Maybe I’ll give his other things a try sometime – he does have a way with words, that much was clear even in this mess – but first I think I’ll have to put some distance between myself and this production.

die_unschuldigen2Summarizing: Ugh.

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