Native Berliner Ersan Mondtag returns to Theatertreffen with the post-apocalyptic Die Vernichtung (The Extermination). Catch it May 20 and 21 (with English surtitles) at Haus der Berliner Festspiele.
Three reasons to raise an eyebrow at last year’s Theatertreffen: a wordless play, from Kassel, by a 28-year-old newcomer? Mondtag’s unforgettable Tyrannis was a breakout hit. Or are critics just hyped up about the inscrutable, imagistic work of a brassy upstart from (yes, actually from) Kreuzberg? He spoke about this year’s production, a collaboration with Olga Bach for the Konzert Theater Bern, while vacationing in Sri Lanka.
How is Sri Lanka?
It seems like every third Berliner is there right now. It must be because of the New Year’s celebrations, which celebrate the sun god and fertility. I feel immensely fruitful, too. But I can hardly believe that over a million Berliners are here. Maybe you’re confusing Sri Lanka with the Volksbühne. Every third Berliner is certainly at their going-out-of- business sale, and I hope there are still some matchboxes left when I get back. Apart from that, it’s the monsoon. The sun god is between times, in a no-man’s-time, he thunders and ashes, as if raging a heavenly battle against the earth.
Can you explain a little bit about the concept and text of Die Vernichtung?
The very first idea was a situation with four people, totally high on drugs, who wake after several days and suddenly are confronted with a terrorist attack. The whole West collapses or something. How do they come out of their bubble and move forward? To what extent can one make analogies between hedonistic groups and terrorists? Don’t they both want to make change; aren’t they both arrogant about the failures of majority society? So this is first and foremost a generational portrait. I wanted to make the production like a pedestal for Olga Bach’s text – the actors split their bodies from the speech completely and become like speaking statues.
Your first mainstage show in Berlin was an adaptation of Oedipus and Antigone. What interests you about antiquity?
We live in a time, when, fuelled by the acceleration of information, positions are replaced by opinions. In the ancient plays, the actors and so also the spectators are called upon, or even forced, to take a stand. They posed fundamental questions in important terms, and they answered those questions by the end of the performance – or more precisely, exposed the incompatibility of systems with beliefs. In Antigone, it’s between the natural law of the gods and positivist human law. I hope this isn’t too soaked through with Ayurvedic philosophy. I don’t want the doctor to see that I’m on my laptop.
The relationship between politics and theatre is…
Dead. Or some kind of zombie. It still moves, but is, best case scenario, undead. It’s certainly the right time to consider how the theatre can be bound up with political processes again. This is the great challenge to my generation, I think. None of us wants theatre to be seen as just a classier alternative to being entertained by Netflix. But hostility to the digital is also reactionary. I think that with the abandonment of the classical bourgeoisie, something new will emerge, something that we can’t imagine yet, least of all the metropolitans who didn’t see the conflicts between big cities and the countryside coming. It’s time to build a new theatre – from the architecture, to the productions, to our intention. Instead of going on the defensive and taking cuts, we should form gangs, make demands. Why can’t there be another avant-garde? We’ll see.
Die Vernichtung, May 20, 21:00; May 21, 17:00 (English surtitles) | Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Wilmersdorf
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