October 16, 2014, Litro
Karl Kraus wrote The Last Days of Mankind, his grim, Goliath satire about the Great War, for a theatre on Mars. “Theatre-goers of this world would not be able to bear it,” and not just for its monstrous length (209 acts over fifteen hours), the quixotic lavishness of its stage directions (a dead forest murmurs, 1200 horses drown, and there’s something about a singing flammenwerfer), Kraus’ palimpsest layering of its scenes and crenellations of obsolete German, weird aphorisms, and allusions to opaque Habsburg history. It’s the unflinching dramatization of “man’s inhumanity to man” that Kraus believed would make it so unbearable. It’s an inhumanity that isn’t contained in no man’s land but exists—originates—in the marbled rooms of Ringstraße palaces, in factories run by profiteering industrialists and stalls by black market opportunists, and especially, for Kraus, in newspaper columns. On his Martian stage, journalists hound a dying man for a headline-worthy quote and racketeers loot the bodies of the dead, telling them how lucky they are to have escaped the slog of profit-making. Here, at the Tristan Bates Theatre, the Last Night epilogue is managed, boldly, with a cast of four, martial footfalls, smoke that evoked both Mars and mustard gas, and a new ringing translation. It’s hallucinatory, hellish and all too human.
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