New Stage Theatre Company presents the New York premiere of “The Round of Pleasure” by the late Austrian playwright Werner Schwab, translated by Michael Mitchell, from November 10 to December 16 at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street, Manhattan, directed by Ildiko Nemeth.
“The Round of Pleasure” is a tale of serial seduction with ten alienated, exploitative, materialistic characters, all of whom are manipulated by language. It is a modernist re-telling of Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” by the playwright now known as a “divisive mastermind of contemporary Austrian Drama.” Werner Schwab died tragically in 1994 at age 36, shortly after receiving four prestigious playwriting awards and being widely acclaimed as the German language’s most promising new playwright. His career was one of the briefest, most spectacular and most controversial in contemporary German-language theatre.
Schwab studied sculpture from 1978 to 1982 at the Akademie der bildenden Kunste in Vienna. During the 1980s, he worked as a sculptor and woodcutter. His first play, “Die Prasidentinnen,” was produced at the Theater im Kunstlerhaus in Vienna in 1990. Between then and his death four years later, he wrote sixteen plays, eight of which were produced during his lifetime. Schwab’s work tends to be extremely scatological, full of images of surreal violence and degradation, and his texts exploit the German language’s capacity for neologism to a remarkable degree; they are also firmly within a native Austrian tradition of Black comedy.
Schwab is very difficult to translate, but among English-language dramatists, certain stylistic parallels are drawn to Steven Berkoff and Enda Walsh. Because of his tragic premature death and youthful genius, there are inevitable comparisons to Alfred Jarry and Georg Buchner. His viewpoint has been likened to Austrian novelist/playwright Thomas Bernhardt, a writer of ironic style and great bitterness toward Austrian politics.
Schwab’s plays have also been classified as “dramas for a post-ideological age.” For all their rejection of bourgeois values and bourgeois theater, they do not offer criticism of social conditions. In the blackest of black comedy, his characters succumb to primitive urges (rape, human sacrifice, and cannibalism, for example). Social conventions, beliefs and ideals are just a veneer that can be stripped away at a moment’s notice, revealing the violence, obscenity, and filth. Not for nothing did he call one volume of his plays “Excremental Dramas” that lie beneath the surface of our social existence.
His characters appear to be marionettes manipulated by language, by a dislocated and alienated idiom that denies the possibility of liberation through self-expression. The plays are written in Austrian dialect with bizarre word conglomerations and grammatical mistakes. The tone is both primitive and oratorical, the syntax is highly artificial and the effect is gut-wrenching. “He sees the human being as falsely put together, and dramatizes it with action and language,” says director Ildiko Nemeth. For a further discussion of Schwab’s language in “A Round of Pleasure,” please see: www.jsnyc.com/season/schwab.htm.
Many of the actors in this production are from Schwab’s “inner circle,” which have performed his plays in Austria, Europe and other English-speaking countries. New Stage Theatre Company chose to showcase the work of Werner Schwab because his life and work have previously been unexplored in New York theater. Director Ildiko Nemeth directed NSTC in the first American production of a play by Schwab, “First Ladies,” at ATA in 2002. NSTC welcomed the challenge of presenting “The Round of Pleasure” to further decode the intentions of this divisive mastermind and to introduce New York audiences to another of his major works. This is the American premiere of “The Round of Pleasure” and its world premiere in English.
The soundscape will include recordings of music by Johann Strauss and excerpts from the repertoire of Einsturzende Neubauten, an experimental music band from West Berlin (formed in 1980) which inspired Schwab in his writing. The band uses a mixture of standard musical instruments and custom-made instruments of scrap metal and building tools. Its best-known member is the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Blixa Bargeld.
The cast includes Markus Hirnigel, Galway McCullough, Catherine Correa, Nicole Hafner, Jeanne Lauren Smith, Kaylin Lee Clinton, Florencia Minniti, Sarah Lemp, Charles Finney, John Rosania and Peter Schmitz. Lighting design is by Federico Restrepo. Choreography is by Julie Atlas Muz. Art Direction is by Ildiko Nemeth and Jessica Mitrani. Set Design is by Ildiko Nemeth and Jessica Mitrani. Costume Design is by Jessica Mitrani and Ildiko Nemeth. Production Manager is Florencia Minniti. General Manager is Fabiyan Pemble-Belkin.
Director Ildiko Nemeth is a Hungarian native and a veteran of Eastern European experimental theater. Her desire to bring this form of theatrical expression into stronger focus for American audiences led her to form The New Stage Theatre Company in 2002. In Hungary, Nemeth garnered numerous prizes for acting, such as the Guardian Critics’ Choice Award at the Scotland Fringe Festival in Edinburgh and the Best Performance Award at the International Gombrowicz Festival in Poland. She moved to the U.S. in 1998 and founded NSTC after graduating with a Master’s Degree from the Actors Studio Drama School in 2002. At the Actors Studio, several of Nemeth’s peers were inspired by her unique vision of bridging geographical and cultural gaps by collaborating with international artists. This group became the original NSTC. Since then, the group of New Stage collaborators has included numerous talents, including a Guggenheim fellowship recipient and artists trained at the Julliard School.
Last year, New Stage Theatre Company presented “Some Historic/Some Hysteric,” a play set in late 19th Century Paris. It was based on the “Tuesday lectures” of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, the founder of modern neurology, who invited the public to Salpetriere hospital to watch patients enact their neurological maladies. Time Out (Robert Simonson) deemed the production a “surreal vision” that was most effective in its images. Backstage (Irene Backalenick) called the play “an awesome aesthetic experience. Magnificent work, all around, courtesy of its set design, costumes, movement, music, performance and direction.” “Some Historic/Some Hysteric” was subsequently nominated in 2007 for Innovative Theatre Awards in three categories: Outstanding Production of a Performance Art Piece, Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role and Outstanding Ensemble.
Other NSTC productions have included “Dial-a-Mom” by Argentine exile playwright Diana Raznovich (Flatiron Playhouse, 2003) and two original dramaticules followed by Beckett’s “Come & Go” (Walkerspace, 2003).
Translator Michael Mitchell has written on modern Austrian literature and works as a literary translator. His other translations include Gyorgy Sebestyen’s “The Works of Solitude” and “A Man Too White”; Gustav Meyrink’s “The Angel of the West Window,” “The Golem,” “The Green Face,” “The White Dominican,” and “Walpurgisnacht”; Florian Kalbeck’s “The House of the Linsky Sisters,” Josef Winkler’s “The Serf” and Oskar Kokoschka’s “Stories from My life.” He is also the editor and translator of “The Dedalus/Ariadne Book of Austrian Fantasy: The Meyrink Years.” In 1998, he was awarded the distinguished Schlegel-Tieck Prize for the best translation of the year from German published in the United Kingdom. More info: http://homepages.phonecoop.coop/mjmitchell/.
The play runs November 10 to December 16 at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street, NYC (between Rivington and Delancey). Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 5:00 pm., Tickets are $25 general admission $20 students, seniors and groups. There is a Gala performance on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 8:00 pm, with tickets $85 for the performance and After Party; $25 for After Party only. There are no performances Thanksgiving week. For reservations and ticket sales, contact SMARTTIX at (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com. Online ticketing also available at: www.newstagetheatre.org.