“Die Geschichte der Komödie” – Theater im Park, Vienna

Ludovico Lucchesi Palli in Vienna

One of the highlights of this year’s Theater im Park, which is in its third year, is the first of two new productions written (and in this case) directed by artistic director and acclaimed actor/comedian Michael Niavarani with the ensemble of his Simpl Theatre (Katharina Dorian, Jennifer Frankl, Ariana Schirasi-Fard, Joachim Brandl, Julian Loidl, Matthias Mamedof and Bernhard Murg).

 

The ensemble. Photo credit: Lukas Fassl.

 

The show is entitled Die Geschichte der Komödie (The History of Comedy), and as the name suggests, takes a close look at comedy as an art form. What does a comedy consist of? What types of comedies are there? These and many other questions are answered in the form of sketches and scenes, narrated by Niavarani and partly by the master of ceremonies Joachim Brandl in almost two hours, without an interval. This is a shame, as there is a lot to take in and the switching between the two narrators does not work well, as it is unclear, why they switch or why they’re doing it as a duo in certain instances.

To begin with, Niavarani welcomes audience members, introduces the show and outlines a few elements crucial to comedies. The first component is the counterquestion. In pairs, the ensemble acts out short scenes with counterquestions. This already gives audiences an idea as to what to expect in terms of humour. Then, Niavarani focuses on various character types that may be found in a comedy such as a greedy man (a very humorous Bernhard Murg), a merry widow (a bit overly dramatic but certainly humorous from Dorian) as well as many others.

Once these “ingredients” were established, a series of scenes and sketches followed that showed how comedy has evolved historically, beginning with the ancient Greeks and branching through to sixteenth-century Spain. Dealing with this, the company introduces the concept of mistaken identity which here involves a lot of slapstick but is nonetheless entertaining and not too low-brow. The historic aspect drifts off shortly after when a series of sketches introduces other elements of the comedy but with little historical context.  But it is the remnants of the historical aspect that are interesting. This shows how much research has been done. It is a shame that the slapstick takes over at some point and leaves the historic side in the background.

The most original scene is possibly the one in which, on the morning of his own wedding, a groom is caught by his bride and future father-in law in bed with another woman. This could be quite humorous simply on its face but here, the dialogue only consists of movie quotes which is highly entertaining. Here, Julian Loidl finally has the chance to demonstrate his comic skills which in the context of only communicating with film titles or quotations can be quite challenging.

Another highlight is a scene in which the son wants to introduce his new girlfriend to his parents.  Instead of showing a friendly scenario following social norms, they express the things they truly think about one another. For example, the mother (played with great comic gusto by Dorian) says to her son: “I preferred your previous girlfriend” and the son (Matthias Mamedof) replies: “Me too!”

Also, the relationship between mother-in law and daughter-in law is parodied here. The mother evidently does not approve of the girl (portrayed by Ariana Schirasi-Fard) her son has brought over. She does not seem to like her new in-laws either which ramps up the humour.

This scene comes with perfect comic timing and displays the innate observational acting talent of all the actors involved. To conclude the show, Niavarani pays tribute to Johann Nestroy, the popular Austrian theatrical polymath from the Biedermeier period who he honored last year by writing a book. Here the Nestroyian theatre is presented in costume with newly written couplets that often refer to Austrian politics. These certainly work well as a means to wrap up the evening and take us back to Austria.

Michael Niavarani has conceived a strong thematic offering. Despite some lengthy and stilted moments, there is a lot of good comedy here both in terms of the writing and the strength of the ensemble.