Megalomania and self-abasement

Megalomania and self-abasement

Michaela Preiner

Foto: (Julia Kampichler )


March 2024

A production by the Israeli Acco Theater left the audience at the "wortwiege" festival in Wiener Neustadt with goosebumps. "The Anthology" proved to be an artful blend of different genres. The play alternated between musical cabaret, psychodrama and history lesson, but with the best means the theater has to offer: two stage professionals.

They really do exist. Those small productions that travel the world without much fanfare and captivate audiences in every country, no matter where they land.

One such production has landed at the Kasematten „wortwiege“ Festival in Wiener Neustadt. “fragil / fragile” is the motto of this season and thus also captures the essence of the piece “The Anthology”. Smadar Yaaron and Moni Yossef from the Acco Theater in Israel manage to captivate the audience in their salon for over an hour. There is also plenty of laughter, although sometimes the laughter gets stuck in your throat.

"The Anthology" at the wortwiege Festival in Wiener Neustadt. (Photo: Julia Kampichler)

“The Anthology” zu Gast beim wortwiege Festival in Wiener Neustadt. (Foto: Julia Kampichler)

Smadar plays a fine, old, Jewish lady on the piano, who accompanies herself musically to her stories about God and the world. The lively and witty opening monologue is understood in the replica as the construct of an identity that must be elevated due to its fragility and damage. Without this elevation, this woman would have perished long ago and so, although we initially laugh at megalomaniac interpretations of Jewish culture, it is only after some time that we understand why this is a pure survival strategy for the old lady.

Smadar speaks in a mixture of Hebrew, English and German about the creation of the world and that Judaism is simply the source of all existence – including, absurdly, that of the blues and tango. She talks about music as a means of survival as well as alcohol or pills, without which she would simply lose her grip. A grounding that, on closer inspection, is not grounding at all. But the story also revolves around a mother-son relationship that could not be more unhealthy. The reason for this mismatch is the old lady’s former internment in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the trauma of which she carries with her and, to make matters worse, passes on to her son. The latter – also 67 years old – only makes his grand entrance in the second part of the play and immediately mingles with the audience to talk to him. His mother’s first half is as spherical and artistic as his son’s second half, who, with a gas mask on his head, is a grotesque apparition from the very beginning.

In this psychological battle for bare survival, which the two characters obviously have to play throughout their lives, abysses open up. So deep that any political correctness is inherently doomed to failure. But it is precisely the blunt atrocities, wrapped up in charming words, that make it clear: What is done to a person in his or her life leaves its mark. No matter how cultivated he or she wants to live beyond it – the evil inflicted on him or her still breaks its way at certain points and poisons the offspring at the same time.

Nevertheless, there are also unexpected, humorous changes of scene, as well as deeply emotional outbursts. In one such scene, the 67-year-old man transforms into a small, whimpering boy. Gripped by horror, distant from his family, close to dying of thirst, he roars out his fears while standing on the piano. Whether this suffering took place or is taking place in a concentration camp or current combat zones is ultimately irrelevant. We witness a desperate group of people who are completely helpless and unable to defend themselves. Neither against the violence from outside, nor against the psychological violence of his mother.

Smadar Yaaron and Moni Yossef achieve the masterpiece of allowing us to look deep into the abysses of the soul with intense acting in which we participate at first hand, without accusing. Instead, a perpetrator-victim reversal takes place in the course of the performance that fascinates and repels at the same time. The bursting open of emotional wounds, the visibility of madness that is not self-inflicted, but into which one is driven, all this is realized with a virtuosity that is incredibly fascinating.

Applause, the means of survival for every actor and actress, is denied them by the audience. However, what at first glance appears to be regrettable for them turns out, just a few moments later, after the audience has left the room, to be a psychological rucksack that they have unnoticeably put on the audience. Not being allowed to clap and having to sneak away quietly is like a gesture of head bowing, shame and confession of guilt. As is repeatedly postulated, we should not speak of collective guilt. But wouldn’t it be fair to pass on feelings of guilt across generations in the same way that traumas are passed on to future generations?

“The Anthology” is not only of the highest quality in terms of acting. The content, as simple as it may seem at first glance, also lives on an unbelievable number of levels, which must inevitably raise a whole series of questions for any thinking person. By inviting the Israeli duo, Anna Maria Krassnigg gave the audience a brilliant premiere towards the end of the festival in the Kasematten in Wiener Neustadt, which ends on March 24, 2024.

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