Last weekend I saw Husbands by Toneelgroep Amsterdam director Ivo van Hove in the Schaubühne in Berlin. I was not unequivocally enthusiastic about the play, though it has a boisterous quality that has stayed with me these past days.
Picture © Jan Versweyveld
The Germans on the other hand have not deigned to give the play five minutes before deciding it is trash, see Jule Löffler for Freitag and Sascha Krieger. They stumble over each other and their poorly worded mischaracterizations to denounce the play, calling it boring, grotesque and poorly founded.
This seems to be another case of German traditionalists having a hard time dealing with modernity. Husbands is more entertaining than quite some plays I have seen at de Schaubühne —some of which were ordeals to sit through1.
The play is an adaptation of the movie by John Cassavetes which most of us will never get around to seeing2. The stage design is in the modern style that we’re used to from Versweyveld and the ensemble gives it a high octane raucous (as in ‘fuck yeah!’) treatment.
Each actor also has a head mounted camera that is displayed intermittently above the stage, translating the cinéma vérité to the theater. Translating it so well that for me the first person view on the screen was more compelling to watch than the overview below.
Music, especially music by Bruce Springsteen, also plays a large role in this adaptation. The Boss perfectly exemplifies that feeling of being a son of the most powerful country in the world that also happens to make the best music in the world. You would think Germans were more familiar with this American Exceptionalism even if from the receiving side.
Being in that position and then confronted with mortality offers some hints to the husbands’ behaviour but they seem mostly the mannerisms of old men. Main stage theater in the Netherlands seems rather obsessed with the middle-aged. I couldn’t care less for them, but theater seems as shaped by market forces as anything.