With the fanatical attitude of a vacuum cleaner salesman, the officer tries to convince a traveler of his semi-automatic killing machine. In this role, Konstantin Weber passionately describes the “peculiar apparatus” which, in an hour-long procedure, carves the sentence into the body of the delinquent, performs it, praises it, demonstrates it on a living object.
For his production of “In the Penal Colony”, Bogdan Koca himself adapted Franz Kafka’s famous story, directed it and created the stage design. The play premiered last Friday on the Small Stage of the Chemnitz Playhouse in the Spinnbau. The material, which has horrified readers for more than a hundred years because of its sensual perfidy, is no easy challenge for theater professionals. Expectations are high, after all Kafka anticipated totalitarian systems and the industrial killing of people with the text as early as 1914, which were to shape the decades to come. With his penal colony, he precisely sketches the inclination of men – in his work Kafka writes almost exclusively of men – to fascism, to inhuman behavior within ideologies. The story thrives on vivid descriptions and cleverly used words, unfolding its magic, a terrible cinema in the head. The story is not designed as stage literature. Unfortunately, this fact of the Chemnitz production is clearly visible.
The chamber play with Richard Koppermann as a prisoner, Patrick Wudtke as a soldier, Leonardo Fonseca as a traveler turns into a monologue, into a sales pitch, in which Konstantin Weber with the torture machine also praises a totalitarian ideology that has long since died out like sour beer and how an offended boy gets angry when she does not arrive. The other players quickly become the backdrop for the officer’s explanations. Too bad – the theatrical adaptation of this scene should have given more space here.
The cast itself was successful for the director. After all, it shows four young men, roughly the same age and yet different in their status, their roles in a hierarchy that they themselves did not create but inherited. Some become victims of the system (the prisoner), others reluctantly take it with them (the soldier), others observe it from the outside without interfering (the traveler), or benefit from it and do everything to preserve it (the officer).
The material offers plenty of parallels to the present, to a reality in which even in Europe war, imperialism and torture are on the agenda again, in which a penal colony is once again conceivable. However, the staging refuses to be given a specific name, bites into its Kafkaesque abstraction, repeatedly gives the viewer readings that lead to the absurd and an extremely muddled ending.
This turns the actually powerful story into a farce. A problem that the roles in the chamber play can make up among themselves, which does not affect every single viewer. A storm in a teacup. But one that encourages you to pick up the great original text again and feast on its ingenious potency, its artistic construction.
All other ideas of the piece “In the Penal Colony” in the east wing of the Spinnbau are sold out.