You guys!

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 08.03.2013

To begin at the beginning… Over the last ten or fifteen years an increasing number of Luxembourgers in and around the theatre have trained in Great Britain or the USA. As a result, our national (or local?) scene has slowly been infiltrated by a somewhat quirkier, snazzier spirit. The latest production coming out of this opening-up is Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions, which is currently showing at the Kasemattentheater.

The ubiquitous Anne Simon directs Leila Schaus, Jules Werner and Marc Limpach in five short plays by New York writer Will Eno.

In the first piece a sports coach has called a post-season press conference in order to look back and apologise for what was a mediocre year. Jules Werner is splendidly convincing in the part – carefully emptying his pockets: keys, mobile, whistle... – before addressing the journalists that have gathered the way they do for similar sessions with Sir Alex Ferguson or Harry Redknapp. Yet, instead of offering the usual monosyllabic statements, this coach unexpectedly starts airing his inner demons. A deep sense of loneliness and confusion is what you take away from a painfully personal press meeting which demonstrates what happens when somebody cannot maintain their public persona. Anne Simon is giving the Eno text a surreal quality thanks to the presence of an angel with bright pink wings and a woman with a white paper-bag over her head, who seems to have stepped straight out of a Diane Arbus photograph. The Fates loom large.

For the second play the woman instantly metamorphoses into an insecure, tense customer who has a perky video taken to be used by a dating service. She oscillates between painfully vulnerable moments and some all-American enthusiasm about the great outdoors. Meanwhile, a man is going through the same ordeal in front of another camera.

What is true? What is mere pose? Both candidates feel absolutely inadequate, the fact that they have to rely on professional help in order to sort out their personal lives being itself a deep source of embarrassment.

Whereas she longs for company and commitment, he keeps on dreaming about the “ideal” woman and hides behind a series of tentative attempts at self-representation. Yet, as the final play suggests, living as a couple is not easy either. Two people might end up leading completely parallel lives framed by both birth and death – in this case, the birth of a niece and the death of a father.

The various situations, which all sound rather grim and desperate, are given a particular twist thanks to Eno’s bitter-sweet writing and Anne Simon’s imaginative interpretation of these uncomfortable snapshots. When an airline spokeswoman tries to comfort relatives after a plane crash in which there were no survivors, her inexperience has her alternate between desperate wailing and blind attacks of rage, between painfully tactless and politically incorrect thoughts, on the one hand, and self-destructive despair, on the other. Leila Schaus is utterly persuasive in the role, moving between big, melodramatic gestures and moments of impotent bewilderment.

The most disturbing play deals with a photographer and his assistant trying to recreate an old black and white war photograph. Again, funny and threatening moments alternate, again, the personal and the professional merge as pain and vulnerability start flickering beneath a seemingly neutral surface.

Anne Simon stages a pathos-free production that is played fast and clear by actors who offer beautifully accomplished performances as they slip in and out of roles. There is a constant life-like intertwining of sharp comedy and tragic moments. The space itself is reconfigured brilliantly – the neon-framed box becoming a perfect microcosm, while other parts of the room are cleverly brought in at times. Meanwhile, two large screens open the texts up even further so as to make the audience part of both the performance and the various moods.

The five plays move on seamlessly, the most poignant and poetic moment coming at the very end, when “the second man” becomes an “angel” with fuchsia wings in the final tableau and starts impishly watching and waiting behind the couple that have just broken up. Only the lonely – a memorable 70 minutes.

Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions was showing at the Kasemattentheater on March 1, 5, 6 and 7. The final performance is on March 12;
Janine Goedert
© 2023 d’Lëtzebuerger Land