A compelling cast of real-live characters narrates the Gorki’s new GDR documentary piece Atlas of Communism.
The stage is symmetrical. As the audience enters, we choose a side. The performers introduce themselves – mostly non-professional actors, all with something to do with the GDR. Even if that something is, like nine-year-old Matilda Florczyk, that she knows nothing about her mother’s homeland and thus provides both naïve honesty and comic relief. Before the first scene, hanging vertical shades descend. It’s the Wall! People pass through. Eventually, it falls. For a piece about the GDR, such stagecraft could be heavy-handed, but only after the performance does the light bulb go off: the Wall is a projection surface. What one side watches, the other side sees projected.
Argentine director Lola Arias trades best in such open metaphors – though the piece ends, disappointingly, with a kind of late-night-at-university conversation about communism and a “let’s agree to disagree” dance party (Gorki directors, you’ve got to knock it off with the after-school special endings!). Better just to trace eight very human routes into and out of German socialism, like that of Mai-Phuong Kollath, a Vietnamese guest worker who came to the GDR to study medicine and ended up running a restaurant in Rostock where she faced discrimination from neo-Nazis.
Documentary theatre can be uneven, but these women, and “dissident queen/Politunte” Tucke Royal, shine bright. The 73-year-old former translator Monika Zimmering’s smile is radiant, spreading up to her eyes, which seem to say, “What am I doing up here? This is crazy, but whatever.”
There’s no substitute for people having a great time on stage, for real. Ex-punk-rocker Jana Schlosser wails her anthem, “Nazis again in East Berlin”, which landed her in Stasi prison for a year and a half. 84-year-old Salomea Genin (read our full interview with her here) sits on the sidelines during this number, drawing her lips in tight as she reviews her lines for the next scenes. After coming of age as a Jewish girl in the 1930s and surviving WWII by moving to Australia, she became a lifelong member of the Communist Party and a Stasi informant (you can read about it, she jokes, in her memoir). When Genin realised the extent of her complicity in state violence, she became suicidal. Even outside the spotlight, her deep ambivalence about the music, Schlosser, the GDR and communism itself reads loud and clear.
Atlas of Communism, Jan 24-25, 19:30 | Gorki Theater, Mitte (with English surtitles)