D.he nameless narrator loves Ivan and is depressed. Then she loves Malina and is still depressed. She walks across the stage in a gray, ruffled crepe dress and a black mesh top. Her long train is as heavy as the thoughts she carries. The apartment at 6 Ungargasse, in the third district of Vienna, is a cabinet made of mirrors. Paper lies on the floor. Faces look at the narrator from every corner, sometimes tired, sometimes sad and sometimes dead. Two superhumanly large feet kick out a cigarette. The narrator loves smoking when she is thinking and writing, in the long, lonely nights – in the moments when the “erratic monologues” arise.
At their first premiere this season, the Kammerspiele des Schauspiel Frankfurt dared to play the novel “Malina” by Ingeborg Bachmann. The Austrian’s book, published in 1971, tells the love story between an unnamed intellectual in Vienna and the two men who live with her – Ivan, the Hungarian who works in the financial sector, and Malina, the historian. Bachmann’s novel has autobiographical traits and is a criticism of the violence that men emanate. In it she reflects on the failed relationships with Paul Celan and Max Frisch, the horrors of National Socialist rule and the war.
Lilja Rupprecht and Katrin Spira have adapted the novel version for a two-hour, yet fast-paced production for the stage. The play stages the three-part novel as a gender fluid trauma elegy. Inga Busch, Manja Kuhl and Fridolin Sandmeyer change the roles of the three protagonists. Sometimes he wears a flowered dress. Sometimes the two women are masked. Then they dance across the stage in gray hooped skirts.
Only stories that make you happy
The first act tells the happy love story of Ivan and the narrator, which gradually falls apart. The “beautiful Ivan”, played by Sandmeyer in this part, is a self-confident, proud man. The world and the narrator seem to be at his feet. He returns from his business trips to his lover in his long, beige trench coat. However, he cannot deal with her feelings, fear of loss and worries – “go out, read less, sleep properly”. Inevitably, the relationship between the two first cracks. The narrator staggers back and forth between lust for life and the spiritual abyss. She wants to write a book again. It should be an “Esultate, jubilate”, suggests Ivan. She should not write another text that deals with “the misery in the world”.
Her look is pale, her face furrowed. “Ivan doesn’t know anything about love.” He replies flippantly: “We still have a whole life.” A moment later she is standing in front of him in a long designer dress. No more mourning, she promises, just colorful clothes and stories that make you happy. But again the collapse follows. The dispute. The wrong thoughts. The sleepless nights. The writing. The alcohol. The cigarettes. Until Malina shows up.
Again he is flippant with her suffering
Malina is different from Ivan. He cares about her feelings, but over time he becomes more and more dominant. He is slowly gaining the upper hand over the apparently fragile woman. Malina says almost nothing. His character is only formed in the thoughts of the narrator and the nocturnal monologues.
Just as the novel is tripartite, the play also consists of three acts. The plot is interrupted by monologues, lyrical interjections and musical performances. This creates an atmospheric framework for dealing with the narrator’s thoughts. In the darkness of the night there is silence, only a faint whimper can be heard until a moody piano melody can be heard. Philipp Rohmer plays the piano in a shiny silver sequin dress. Malina is back. She plunges into life, wears red lipstick, her tired eyes are wide open. A laugh goes through the hall. She lies next to Ivan and looks at him in love with a penetrating look. But again he deals with her suffering flippantly: “If you are not happy, then you will never be able to do anything good.”
Just a certainty
In the second part the stage is transformed into a grotesque horror cabinet. The three actors wear masks and artificial wigs. A fire burns on the piano. The memories of her sleazy and dominant father are surfacing. “Who wants to sleep in a night forest full of questions?” The narrator describes the sexual abuse by her father and his preference for “young women”. The masks are falling apart. All three actors are screaming for their lives. The song “Open Book” by Cake can be heard in the background: “You think she’s an open book. But you don’t know which page to turn on. “
Kuhl and Busch represent a narrator who collapses but keeps getting up. After the excruciating night she recovers and starts to write again. The play of the three actors also reveals the role of Malina, who does not exist at all, but is the male part of her soul – the destructive that she has to get rid of. But the Frankfurt adaptation does not conclude in a conciliatory manner.
In the lonely hours of the night when she is working on her book, there is only one certainty for the narrator: “There is no such thing as war and peace. Peace is just a short break. There is always war. Always violence. ”She has to come to terms with her memory, this is the only way to enable her to emancipate. “A day will come, you will be free, all people. There will be greater freedom, it will be beyond measure, it will be for a lifetime. “