Ludovico Lucchesi Palli in Austria
[18th October 2022]
Following the success of JA EH! – Beisl, Bier und Bachmannpreis in 2018, Vienna’s Rabenhof Theater presents the world premiere of a new play by the author, playwright, and cartoonist Stefanie Sargnagel. The play is entitled HEIL. Eine energetische Reinigung (which translates as Intact – An Energetic Cleansing). Christina Tscharyiski directs once again.
Photo credit: Rabenhof_Pertramer
In her new play, the Viennese cult author explores the world of Covid deniers. But instead of focusing on right-leaning groups who often go out on the streets of Vienna to demonstrate, she sets her play around a seminar attended by more cerebral types who are focused on primal energy and the esoteric.
The play begins with various actors talking from various parts of the theatre. Some are on stage, others adjacent to the stage while another is one at the back near the lighting technician. To begin with, everyone is asked to stand up and take a deep breath. This might seem a bit unexpected, but it is an engaging way to open a play.
The only confusing thing about the opening scene is that there are far more people on stage than the announced four. Once the exercise is over, the five band members of Buntspecht, take their places by their instruments and the four actors continue with the story.
Throughout the performance, the band switches back and forth between playing between scenes and acting on stage. This is a good addition to the general spectacle but does not add anything to the production, aside from setting the mood. The band, known for a Indie pop sound, consists of Lukas Klein (voice, guitar, piano), Florentin Scheicher (melodica, trumpet), Florian Röthel (drums, percussion), Jakob Lang (double bass) and Roman Geßler (saxophone, recorder).
We meet four individuals who come from different backgrounds: one is an entrepreneur, the other a self-styled shaman, the other a schoolteacher and lastly, the woman running the seminar who is a doctor. While they all have different backgrounds, they all share one thing in common: they are Corona deniers. They don’t want to follow what the government tells them to do in terms of prevention of the virus and have their own strange ideas about Corona. This is all presented in a very humorous way, but, mostly, in manners that in some way prompt the viewer to take the viewpoint being expressed with some level of seriousness.
Photo credit: Rabenhof_Pertramer.
The cast consists of Bettina Schwarz (the doctor), Bernhard Dechant (probably the most humorous of the four as the shaman), Tanja Raunig (the schoolteacher) and Alexander Strobele as the entrepreneur. Throughout the piece they play other roles as well, which might work for some, but is very confusing even for an attentive spectator.
The material is conveyed through a combination of monologues, dialogues, and narration. Even though the dramaturgy is easy to follow, using a combination of various narrative forms is not necessary. In fact, the strongest scene is one with dialogue. This occurs during one of the many coffee or lunch breaks. It is where Sargnagel touches on a rather serious aspect of these Corona deniers and shows what the consequences of these radical reactions can be. The entrepreneur reveals that his family has distanced itself from him due to his strange ideas.
Unfortunately, after the last of these breaks, the actors get hold of megaphones and begin to scream into them with loud music playing in the background. This scene is quite long and you can barely understand a word.
The sets by Dominique Wiesbauer consist of pink walls and a mountain projected in the background, which work well for this context. There is even a sign across the stage saying, “Center for Spiritual Further Development”. This sets the scene vividly despite the minimalistic backdrop.
Stefanie Sargnagel has written a humorous play, which might touch upon many themes we have heard before but presented in a way that is quite innovative and thought-provoking. Director Christina Tscharyiski shows good understanding of the text, and brings in innovative techniques for exposition despite some narrative difficulties. It’s a relevant piece for our times that will hopefully inspire and raise awareness.