“Rocky! Return of the Loser” at Werk X-Petersplatz

Ludovico Lucchesi Palli in Vienna

After the cancellation of the originally scheduled premiere about a year ago, the German speaking premiere of Tue Biering’s Rocky! Return of the Loser (here entitled Rocky! Die Rückkehr des Verlierers), finally saw the light of day at Vienna’s Werk X-Petersplatz. The production is presented in cooperation with the group juggernauten and is directed by Hans-Peter Kellner who also translated the Danish play into German.  It stars Andreas Patton.

 

Andreas Patton in Rocky! Return of the Loser. Photo credit: Alexander Gotter.

 

The performance begins with Andreas Patton entering.  He greets the audience and tells them what they are about to see. He tells them how he loves the character of Rocky and engages with the audience. He asks who has seen the first Rocky film and encourages audience members to join him in humming the famous theme song.  At this stage, it is not clear whether this is just an introduction to the play or part pf the performance.  Once he has caught the attention of the audience, he begins to narrate the story of Rocky. This is when it becomes clear that this is all part of the performance.

In this first part, the narration is still very engaging in a similar tone and pace as the first introductory words. He talks about Rocky and how he represents the typical loser, with no self-confidence, attacked (not physically necessarily but morally) by the intellectual elite but who in the end is celebrated. He talks about his girlfriend Adrienne and his friend who is referred to as Pauli.  He talks about his training and his battles with Apollo Creed, who, according to the actor, is an antagonist of Rocky.

 

Andreas Patton in Rocky! Return of the Loser. Photo credit: Alexander Gotter.

 

However, as the evening unfolds, the discussion of Rocky as a loser slowly drifts into a political discussion and places Rocky into a political context. At this point, there is a distinct change of tone. Patton is more aggressive at times.  At first, the political placement of Rocky is a bit blurred but suddenly it becomes the central theme of the piece and Rocky’s political standpoint is questioned by the actor. From the very beginning, the actor states that he is not Rocky whatsoever. He considers himself to be part of the intellectual elite, the ones that attack people like Rocky.  He claims that Rocky is patriotic, hates globalization. While he does touch on the refugee crisis, there is no other political reference, possibly, to show that Rocky and his beliefs are universal.

At the beginning, the political side isn’t touched upon, but as the play unfolds, we understand that it is exactly that divides the actor and Rocky.  He talks about Rocky’s political activities, how he starts a political movement, encourages demonstrations and riots. What at first seemed like an obsession for the character of Rocky turns into hatred until the situation changes completely: it is no longer the left wing attacking the right wing but it is the right wing striking back and attacking the left wing.

 

Andreas Patton in Rocky! Return of the Loser. Photo credit: Alexander Gotter.

 

For this intimate, verbally driven production, the use of sets is minimal. When he talks about the battle with Apollo Creed, the actor paints the name Creed in red paint on black cardboard and then, with the same red paint, he daubs the name Rocky around it, to show that it is Rocky who is striking back. A great metaphor.  Another interesting metaphor can be found with a pig’s torso attached to an electric metal chain, hanging down to the ground. This is initially used to depict the Slaughterhouse, which Rocky uses to train, but, as the piece drifts into a political commentary, Patton punches it as if it were a punch bag. In the final section though, the pig is removed from the stage, and Patton undresses, paints himself in red and attaches himself to the metal chain, to show Rocky or the many Rockys defeated him. A very effective way to show how the situation has shifted.

The one-hander, which lasts roughly 90 minutes is a roller-coaster ride for Andreas Patton, who delivers an emotional performance, and shows how the actor changes throughout the piece.  He goes from the friendly, engaging to the angry all the way to the defeated man, and does so with great depth.

Along with the sound design by Edgar Aichinger, which helps to create suspense and gets this narrative play going, minimalistic but effective sets by Sandra Moser, director Hans-Peter Kellner brings an important piece of theatre to the stage which is written in such a way that is it is universal and timeless.