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Altbau is what you want, right?

Altbau is a charming new site-specific project from Theater am Tisch that gives you four 20-minute playlets, each with their own writer and actors, and all set in the different parts of the same apartment.

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Photo by Roger Rossell

A man, naked except for his boxer briefs, is tied up with tape and slumps against the wall.

There’s blood on the wall and a woman, clothed, begins to clean it up. It’s a classic Krimi set up: the scene is laid out before us and now it’s on to whodunit and why – which is where everything starts to get sticky.

This duet in the bathroom is one of four playlets that make up the theatre programme Altbau, a project from Theater am Tisch curated by Marina Rodriguez Llorente, Christopher Taylor and Serena Schimd, in collaboration with flat-let service airbnb (read: neighborhood gentrifier). The evening is basically theater as a tasting menu, none of the pieces lasts longer than 20 minutes, each play features a new writer, new actors, and a new location in the same flat. And that is really the charm of the performance, it’s site-specific work in a site so small that the spatial separation between audience and actors is reduced to centimeters.

This fly-on-the-wall feeling can be thrilling, uncomfortable, and challenging depending on the work and where you happen to be in the audience. But there’s no awkward audience participation or even reference to the fact that the audience is there: it’s more like being transported into a television drama as an invisible observer than attending the standard post-dramatic theater around Berlin.

The fact that the actors (Sophie Bogdan, Barry McKeon, Marina Rodriguez Llorente, Carlo Loiudice, Eneko Sanz, Amor Schumacher, Nils Willers, Laura Huertas Zurriaga) stay within the realm of traditional realism makes for a bit of fresh air. Breaking the fourth wall, talking to the audience, making meta commentary on performance is now so commonplace in the Freie Szene – with the notable exception of the English Theater – that a naturalistic production almost looks radical.

The variety of the English-language texts from Marietta Kirkbride, Piet Starrett, Christopher Taylor and Temenuga Trifonova also leads to different theatrical experiences. From bodice-ripper seduction in the kitchen to meta-conflict analysis through Aristotle in the living room, the authors’ unique voices result in very contrasting approaches to the same topic of intercultural relationships. And overall the experience mostly succeeds in resonating with the experience of a YUKI in Berlin looking for love, sex or papers.

There are small inconsistencies in the scripts and execution which breaks the suspension of disbelief, and the transitions from world to world within the same apartment are a bit abrupt. The format can also feel a bit restrictive – 20 minutes really isn’t all that long – but it also seems appropriate for a young company with limited resources that’s just starting out.

It’s clearly a labor of love for everyone involved but the potential for artistic growth through future endeavors is obvious. In its most satisfying moments, Altbau transcends its location and limitations to become a meditation on the cliché but still puzzlingly real dimensions of love: sacrifice that’s never reciprocated; physical attraction stifled by intellectual arguments; a desire to be faithful tugging against pure desire. And it’s coming to you live without the television – the drama’s literally within reach.

Altbau, April 25-27, 20:00, April 28, 19:30, sold out, but you can check for last minute cancellations or waiting list by e-mailing [email protected], due to limited seating, location kept secret