Brecht’s Baal, written in 1918, follows a rebellious poetic genius (no prizes for guessing who he had in mind) as he breaks with bourgeois norms, sleeps around and generally gets up to no good. In Ersan Mondtag’s production at the Berliner Ensemble, up-and-coming star Stefanie Reinsperger takes the lead role, in what initially seems like a promising gender-bending take on Brecht’s most macho of anti-heroes, but quickly descends into a gaudy and muddled affair. Mondtag’s Baal is a sensuous beast, emphasising striking images and imposing staging over dialogue. In a picaresque manner, the drama limps from one petit bourgeois convention-busting scene to another, without much in the way of a plot in between. There are elements here typical of both Mondtag and Brecht, but the two don’t mix well. The vaguely Gaugin-influenced visuals are certainly impressive, and the biting cynicism of Brecht’s text still cuts through. However, each element – from the set design, to Reinsperger’s technically excellent performance – seems distinct from the rest. Mondtag’s directorial choices then take on an incoherent and arbitrary character and the play becomes tedious. Clocking in at three hours, the production also feels much too long. Baal can be all things to all people: charming, antisocial, brutal – but he shouldn’t be boring.
Baal | Directed by Ersan Mondtag. Berliner Ensemble, Mitte. Oct 12-13, 19:30 (with English surtitles on 13).