Friday, August 1, 2008

Play of the Week: Woyzeck

Georg Buchner died in 1837 at the age of 23. He is now considered to be one of the most influential writers in the transition into the modern era. Indeed he was the first German writer to feature working class people as the main characters. His work was very political and spoke out against the oppression of every day people. Had he not died young, he would have had a much larger impact and may have been one of the most influential German literary figures.

His last and most enduring play is the story of a solider who is persecuted by his commanding officers and peers until his bloody murder. It is perhaps best known as the Alban Berg opera (1925), the Herzog film, or the musical by Tom Waits that was turned into his album Blood Money.

What is most interesting is how the play has come down to us as the work is unfinished. We only have the manuscipt that Buchner wrote on loose leaf paper. There are complete scenes but we don't know what order they are supposed to go in. It's not hard to make an educated guess for the majority of the sequences, but as the end draws nearer, the chronology gets a little fuzzy. Also unclear is whether or not Buchner wrote an ending. There are definitely some scenes that point to a close of the action, but nothing that truly unifies the story.

The challenge in producing the work becomes that of arranger. Not only do you have the task of arranging the sequence of the plot, you also have the liberty to do it as well. Imagine how fun it would be if more plays gave you a collection of scenes and left it up to the director, designer and actors to solve the problem of chronology. There would be whole new questions you would have to ask yourself every time you put on a play; the most important being what are we trying to say with this script. It is no longer as predetermined as it would be by the playwright who cements his timeline in print.

Try to get you hands on a couple of different versions of Woyzeck and see how they differ. See if you can figure out a new way to put them together.

Happy Birthday:
August 2: Peter O'Toole (b. 1932)

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