„Der Herr Rudi“ in Georg Danzers „ Sauna G’schichten“
Reviewed by Ludovico Lucchesi Palli in Vienna.
Following a premiere in June 2021, the one-hander starring Rudi Larsen returns to Vienna’s Theater Center Forum prior to starting a national tour throughout Austria. The play premiered in 1976 and was last seen in 1983. Almost forty years later, acclaimed actor, director and artistic director of the company Neue Bühne Wien, Marcus Strahl, revives this little treasure of Viennese theatre history, written by the acclaimed songwriter Georg Danzer.
Rudi Larsen. Photo credit: Rolf Bock.
As the title, which translates to Mr Rudi in Georg Danzer’s Sauna Stories suggests, we are in a sauna, which admittedly, is a rather unusual setting for a play, but in this context, makes perfect sense. Rudi Larsen, or “Herr Rudi”, enters the stage from the side, with a towel around his waist, another one on his shoulder and a bucket and ladle in hand and gets ready to start a sauna by waving a towel in the air, and by adding water to heat up the sauna. As he does this, he interacts with audience members and even improvises by reacting to what the spectators are saying. At this point, it isn’t clear whether the play has begun or not, but within seconds it is apparent that the improvisation is indeed part of the play and helps to engage quickly with the character of Herr Rudi.
In the first act, Herr Rudi begins to comment on various current issues such as natural disasters, religion, the refugee crisis and makes references to people in the news, at which point, you realize that the play has been adapted slightly since its original production. Initially it all feels more like stand-up comedy than a play but as the evening unfolds we learn more about Herr Rudi, what he does, what he used to do and the stand-up elements vanish.
The language is rough, with a strong Viennese dialect, but not too strong. However, he does at all times say exactly what he thinks, regardless of whether it is appropriate or politically correct. This is quite humorous most of the time. Despite the strong language, it seems that he never intends to make political statements but rather just touches on a variety of topics albeit using a rather direct language.
Rudi Larsen is charismatic and delivers a strong performance throughout. His storytelling is engaging, humorous and truthful. In the first act you have a feeling that he is jumping from one topic to the next but you can still follow well. This becomes more challenging in the second act, but it wraps up logically, with him thanking the audience for listening. While we are talking about structure, the first acts ends in the middle of a thought, and rather than finishing off the sentence, he says that he will say more about it after the interval. While this feels a bit like stand-up comedy again, it depicts the charismatic side of Herr Rudi. The entire plays feels as if we are drawn into his world, and he is having a conversation with someone. This is where the setting of a sauna certainly comes in handy, as it is a good vehicle from which to tell a story.
Rudi Larsen. Photo credit: Rolf Bock.
It can be argued that this play is loosely influenced by the 1961 one-hander Der Herr Karl, famously performed by Helmut Qualtinger. While there may be parallels, the “Sauna g’schichten” is a bit lighter and certainly portrays a different kind of Viennese man, but that is also due to the different setting.
The minimal set consists of big picture of a sauna to invoke the scene, designed by Sam Madwar and sauna equipment designed by Martin Gesslbauer. All of this is sufficient, as this is a language-driven piece. The production is directed by Marcus Strahl himself, who does so with a lot of detail in the language a good portion of humor and with a good sense of the Viennese soul.