Reading 1: Der Kreis um die Sonne (The Circle Around the Sun), Roland Schimmelpfennig
The grand opening reading, Thursday evening was by the only name readily familiar to me. Schimmelpfennig is probably the most internationally-produced German playwright, and for that matter probably one of the most internationally-produced playwrights full stop.
The play makes for an interesting case study in German playwriting. Germany is famously a “director’s theater” (regietheater) ecosystem, which basically means that the director is the ultimate author of the work (who makes the production) rather than the playwright (who makes the text). So when a playwright is involved in German theatermaking (which is not always!) in many cases it seems they conceive of the job as being to provide interesting material for a director to sculpt. Not all German playwrights do this, but many do (and the ones who write plays that seem more like “plays” to us can be considered old-fashioned there.) Schimmelpfennig does both. Not that his “Play” plays don’t seem experimental to us in the US, but they still seem… like plays.
The Circle Around the Sun splits the difference. It’s set in a familiar situation: a big crowded party where there’s no room to move and it seems nobody knows anyone else. We overhear a lot of fragments of conversation, with several strands looping back again and again, repeating themselves and developing their themes in an almost musical way. Eventually some characters and narratives coalesce and emerge.
I’m willing to bet that it’s the kind of text where the lines are not assigned— so you can do it with any number of actors and the director distributes them as part of structuring the performance (of course they can also opt to cut or repeat lines too, which the looseness of the text seems to invite).
So, I liked it. (I liked it WAY better than the two not-so-great plays I saw in Paris on the way here— more on those in a later post, maybe?) I’m not sure I saw enough in the piece to make it compelling for the Cherry— the text would really have to trigger a director with some super cool staging possibility, or thematic connection, I think. The reading itself was well-staged, by the director of the festival, but I think the text is not really intended to stand on its own as a reading, without a full German rehearsal process where a director and dramaturg overhaul it (in Germany this is often what the dramaturg does).
Like, for example, the ending has a real sweetness— but the rhythm of the reveal feels a bit off, a bit sudden. But I guess that’s not Schimmelpfennig’s fault— he’s like, the director will do it— and it’s not the fault of the director of this staged reading, who I imagine wouldn’t have felt changing the rhythm of the text was appropriate in this context.
A final thought— as I noted, I’d bet that the text doesn’t assign lines. But the reading basically figured out how to assign lines to the actors such that some characters emerged cohesively on single bodies. (I’ve seen this exact phenomenon once before, in abgrund (“abyss”) a Schaubühne show directed by no less iconic a director than Tomas Ostermeier).
But when a director does this, I feel like the fact that the text is NOT 100% a narrative that makes sense, with consistent characters— in Circle around the Sun, we meet literally dozens of characters for only one line— having some characters very consistent makes less sense of the structure of the rest of the play.
I wonder what it would be like to cast a show like this more loosely, so that the identifiable single characters migrated around the different actors? Most scenes contain a fair bit of repetition from previous scenes with the same characters, maybe rearranged or expanded a bit (it’s kind of cool, it’s not annoying like I’m making it sound). So you could still follow the stories, but maybe it would be more true to the “deconstructed” approach of the text?
Hm, maybe we should have a reading at the Cherry…
There are other Schimmelpfennig plays I love a lot— The Golden Dragon has had a number of US productions, and I’d love to do one. Of course many of his plays have not: there’s one called Idomeneus I’m dying to do. So, always cool to see what a great playwright is up to most recently.