Drama is revolutionary
by Chen Yu-hui
German theater director Thomas OSTERMEIER and popular young French writer Édouard LOUIS joining forces is the perfect choice that was clearly meant to be.
One day five years ago, OSTERMEIER called LOUIS to say that he wanted to adapt the latter's best-seller History of Violence into a stage performance. LOUIS cried, and after five days of feeling deeply touched, he flew from Paris to Berlin to start work on the piece with OSTERMEIER, of whom he had been a loyal fan ever since high school.
From a blue-collar family in a poor area of northern France, LOUIS often heard his father say, "All these gay people just need to be killed!" LOUIS grew up in silence without any friends; everyone around him was as far-right as the Yellow Jackets of today—even the conservative French government had abandoned them.
LOUIS left the area for Paris and began to write his story, publishing his first book, The End of Eddy, when he was 20, an autobiography which earned him fame in the French literary world.
History of Violence, his second book, is based on his being raped and almost murdered one Christmas Eve. He says, "I am devoted to writing about violence because that is the only way for me to survive." The book, classified as queer literature, discusses how he was treated after the incident. As to why it too was an autobiography, he explains, "Because I really had something to say." It talks about homophobia, racism, and the failures of leftism. With a rarely seen clarity and creativity, he has transcended his pain.
"I want to make violence a place for literature, just as Marguerite DURAS brought mad love into literature." He says he has been even more influenced by William FAULKNER.
*William FAULKNER was a famous American novelist, playwright, and poet recognized as one of the most influential American writers ever and an iconic author of the American South. Complex, masterly, and full of deep thought, his work has strongly influenced countless great writers and thinkers.
"Everything will be fine. There's no need to worry. There's really no need to worry." Like fellow transfuge de classe ("class defector") Annie ERNAUX, LOUIS continues to unmask the packaging and lies of politics. Making History of Violence into a stage performance led to OSTERMEIER and him becoming close friends who tell each other everything. They differ considerably in age: LOUIS is 30, and OSTERMEIER, at 54, is more like the former's father. The script and even the stage design were created through discussion between the two; LOUIS, however, does not perform in the piece. When asked how it feels to see his story on stage, he says, "It makes me think life is wonderful." He also really likes Berlin. Though Paris has more of a petite bourgeoisie and is more bustling, Berlin offers a sense of freedom desired by so many Parisians.
OSTERMEIER is a director with major influence on continental European theater. Having gained a name at a young age too, he has been at the top of German theater for years, earning his reputation for adapting classic pieces of literature. Years ago, I invited him to bring his adaptation of IBSEN's A Doll's House to the National Theater in Taipei. Later, his Hamlet came to Taiwan too. History of Violence is bringing him back 13 years since his last visit.
When I was young, I worked in theater and was fascinated by German dramatist Heiner MÜLLER's counter-narrative and deconstructionism, and especially his concern with politics. I also admired East German Frank CASTORF's aesthetic presentation of violence. I have always felt that OSTERMEIER has carried on their traditions.
OSTERMEIER and dramaturge Florian BORCHMEYER work closely together, the latter always bringing in such issues as feminism, psychoanalysis, war, globalization, and the north-south divide, while OSTERMEIER needs only to innovate in the area of format and repeatedly brings up controversial social themes and strong political viewpoints.
In his early days, OSTERMEIER once said, "Drama is revolutionary. You don't need to see the work of any director over the age of 40." He's well over 40 now, so is his work still worth seeing? Absolutely. His talent proves that.
For the past 20 years, beginning with Michel HOUELLEBECQ, French writing has dominated continental European literature, while breakthroughs and experimentation in German theater guide French theater. OSTERMEIER and LOUIS' collaboration is not by mere chance, and that is why this piece is so highly anticipated.
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