7 AGAINST THEBEN
Heiner Müller against Aiskylos?
By Egmontas Jansonas. Diena, 14. Dec. 1994
"7 AGAINST THEBEN" was played three nights in the half-filled room at the Artist Palace. Verdensteatret from Norway tried to introduce a play buildt on the textes of Aiskylos´tragedy "The 7 Against Theben" and "Landscape with Argonauts" by Heiner Müller from the formerDDR.
Aiskylos´drama we allready know to a certain extent, it was pensum in the student days, some read it, and some pretended to have done so.
But Heiner Müller we do not know and can therefore not pretend anything. And we have neither any knowlegde of the Norwegian theatre. The half empty theatre witness not only of our limitations and low interest for theatre. It also shows that we dont want to fill the holes in our education. Fortunately the other half ofthe theatre was filled with young people: This gives some hope...I dont think those who saw " 7 Against Theben" was disappointed;specially those who saw the TV-announcement for the performance.
I would understand that one could want to avoid going to a performance after that kind of video-cuts - there is a difference between commercials for chewing-gum or sanitary-towel and a theatre performance; and it did not help that the performance came from another country. Those who still found their way to the performance,experienced an interesting phenomenon. I could not find out from the program or the text if this was Heiner Müllers play. The thing is that this wellknown German playwriter have produced several agitative plays with current approach,but he have also a lot of poetic dramas wich is connected one way or another to the antique culture and dramas: "Filoktetos" , "Herakles-5" , "Prometheus after Aiskylos" , "Oidipus - the ruler after Sofokles and Hölderlin".
Unfortunately,when we published a selection of "Plays from DDR" in 1982,we chose H.Müllers "Riot" , a anti-fascistic play wich reminds of B.Brechts "The third reich´s fear and misery".
The antifascism,B.Brecht and other "cases like that" has always been a difficult matter for us. We where more into the everyday life and psycology. Therefore we did not have any interest in H.Müller. H.Müller is by the way quite used to this kind of anti-interest about his writings:" I was asked why the theatres is so uninteressted in staging my plays. If a playwriter will try to write in a way that keeps him free from conflicts with the audience,he will,when the applaud comes condemn his text to death." H.Müller did not risk death in Lithuania for the simple reason that no-one read ore staged him.
One tends to produce plays that has a certain garantied success, ore plays that already have been a success other places and have some kind of quality marked on it.....
Maybe this is the reason that they played for a half empty theatre. And that is a pity. I repeat that I dont know if the play was written by H.Müller, because he often build his plays on the antique litterature. But if the idea to compose Aiskylos and Heine Müller together belongs to the norwegian directors Lisbeth J.Bodd and Asle Nilsen we can with certainty establish that this "hybrid"-project has good future perspectives. Of course not here with us and not at this time. We need many years of strain to become totally european. We will have to get rid of the stereotypes and all that by virtue of our mentally indolence call our own culture,art and theatre traditions. The truth is that our tradition consist in our ability to quick and constructively take possession over everything which is of interest from other places. (By the way, the Lithuanian theatre came into being this way for a couple of centuries ago).
Everything else is just resistance against tradition in a conservative way. I say this with a gnawing regret that many did not see the Norwegian "7 Against Theben". In this performance we also find the meeting between two experiences: one that belongs to the antique playwriter and the other from a German. But the latter,supplemented by the experience of Aiskylos, has also the two tousend years of mankinds experience. There, in the antique drama, Oidipus ´sons goes against their own city. Here:everybody is against everybody. 7 TV-screens shows "the seven against the world" - Jugoslavia and the January-days in Lithuania, and what happens right now(the Russian army in Tsjetsjenia) and that who went on yesterday , the day before in Europa ore anywhere.
In world war one and two. When the armed knights attaced unarmed people ore when man is doing atomic- war-alarm-exercises... Two thousend years between Aiskylos and Müller and for two thousand years the various Eteocles and Polyneikes have slaughtered each other:
"They took a sword and split their inheritance
The land is theirs, it is a grave;
One and a half meter deep, one and eighty long.
A piece of land sucking their blood."
Aiskylos could not have written these lines. They are written by H.Müller, one from our own century. The Norwgian artists have proposed exactly this opposition. The two famous contemporary actors´is to play Aiskylos,but find themselves unable to do so.
The actor who is supposed to play defender of Theben,Eteokles, bearly manage to read out seven lines from Aiskylos´tragedy before the "progress" of the 20th century leads him(Sigitas Rackys) off the track and the monologs from H.Müllers lyrical drama starts to emerge. In a way they dont seem to relate to the story of Theben,but this is contra-point,this is an antagonism and a metaphysical conflict. And this opposition strenghtens increasingly by the other actor(Arvydas Dapsys) that with some irony and in a modern fashion tries to continue reading Aiskylos´text. Between the S.Rackys-hero and the A Dapsys-antique there is created a tension which is capable of bearing much bigger dimensions. ("7 Against Theben" lasted only 40 minutes,and that felt fraudulent to me).
The TV-reporter Ceslovas Iskauskas is neither given a normal "role": a TV-reporter on the screen reads information from the battlefield around Theben. This is interessting enough,but a rather narrow position for a political journalist. When one think of a possible future performance ore a similar project one could have used other kind of information(fex. from todays "hot places".
On Sunday it would be suitable with a report on the B.Jeltsin-armys attack on Tsjtsjenia. Though that would not have been anything new: V.Mejerhold has allready used something similar,but as we know,new is the forgotten old). But all in all, the "7 Against Theben"that was shown here by the Norwegian "Verdensteatret" stimulated the fantasy(but those who should experience this stimulation - directors and actors - was not to be found among the audience).
On the other hand we can through our guests from other countries be familiar with theatre-litterature (right now with Heiner Müller, later perhaps with Peter Hacks and others, not necesarily german) and we can stop waiting for the writers to be translated into russian and for instance start to read Yukio Mishimas "My friend Hitler" before it comes to our own bookshop "Littera" from some publisher in Moscow. And for the third, I enjoyed very much listening to the talented Sigitas Rackys read H.Müller´s poetic textes...