Ludovico Lucchesi Palli in Vienna
After two cancellations in April 2020 and March 2021, the long-awaited Vienna premiere of Gruber geht (Gruber Is Leaving) at Werk X-Petersplatz in a co-production with Theater KuKuKK finally saw the light of day. Gruber geht is the stage adaptation of Doris Knecht’s debut novel of the same name published in 2011 which was made into a film in 2015. Sarah Rebecca Kühl adapted the story for the stage and also directs.
Philipp Stix and Sabine Kristof-Kranzelbinder. Photo credit: Markus Achatz.
The play begins with heavy techno music and the stage consists only of three piles of pillows. Gruber is dancing to the music. Above him, there are words scrolling from one side to another like end credits to a television show. The words include “Pain”, “Fucking”, “Sport” and “Drinking”. Every time the word “pain” appears, we can see him experience a bout of pain, but he then quickly continues to party.
A young woman enters the stage. She says something into a microphone, but unfortunately you cannot understand what she’s saying. She hands him a green envelope which puts away. They begin to narrate the story. This takes a little bit of time getting used the division between actor and narrator becomes blurred. Thankfully I was familiar with the story as I had seen the film (though I acknowledge that one should always share the view of others who are coming in cold) and as the evening unfolds, their narrations are interrupted by dialogue as well.
Despite the distant quality of the narration at the beginning and the never-ending party scene, we quickly learn that John Gruber is a thirty-something single whose life is shaping up well; he has no shortage of female romantic companions and an excellent job.
John Gruber (foreground) and musician David Gratzer. Photo credit: Markus Achatz.
Everything changes though when he meets Sarah, a German D.J. They spend the night together and she encourages him to finally open the green envelope. He insists on her reading the contents of the letter to him. The letter is from the hospital. He has cancer and must start treatment immediately. John realizes that he needs to “get a grip”.
The cast consists of Philipp Stix as John Gruber and Sabine Kristof-Kranzelbinder as Sarah, as well as playing various other female roles such as John’s mother, sister, and doctor. Stix brings great depth to the role, particularly when he begins the treatment and when he realizes that he is in love with Sarah.
Kristof-Kranzelbinder switches with ease from one character to the next displaying a technical armoury, but it is in the role of Sarah that she is the strongest. At first, she seems a bit distant, just like Gruber, but then she shows great depth. Her monologue after she finds out that John has cancer is one of the highlights of the evening. Together they harmonize well, especially when they talk about the child they are about to have together. There is abundant chemistry between them.
The story comes with a lot of ups and downs. These are manifested musically with the help of a live musician. While the techno sound obviously comes from pre-recorded music, guitarist David Gratzer delivers a solid soundtrack and gives the sense of spontaneous responses to the atmosphere of the story.
The minimalist sets and graphic design by Sascha Mikel work well, even though the graphics with the words on the wall, are at times unnecessary, as the story would work function well without them.
Sarah Rebecca Kühl manages to capture the essence of the story, with all its darker moments and humour. She has turned it into a two hander, which doesn’t suit all the components, though the love story element certainly benefits from this form.