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  • On Wanting More Than This

    Neues Schauspiel Leipzig stages “Eden”, a strange experimental play about the search for meaning.

    The play begins, as everything does, with a pile of dirt. Eight people walk onto the stage, shovel the dirt, spread it out, until it covers the stage in a smooth layer of medium on which the rest of the story will grow. They settle around in a circle, the Storyteller begins. The play feels like a collective dream. Strange scene after strange scene follows with no clear plot or sequence of events. Archetypal, mostly nameless characters weave in and out of the scenes. 

    It starts with an abandoned train station: don’t you remember it from childhood? When you always knew what the direction of travelling was: “Out”? When all you wanted was to find a way out of here, because you wanted something More? How does it feel to be at the train station now, that you were so desperate to get away from? What did you return for?  

    Much like the prophet Elijah, the Storyteller says, who was expelled from his city, who learned to love his solitude and live alone in the mountains, but for whom the mountains were not enough. Because that’s the problem with leaving: It deprives you of catharsis. What is catharsis? It means to cleanse with blood. And return to the city he does, and cleanse with blood he does.  

    And blood runs through the play. Down a character’s hand, like a Jesus wound, and through the dreams of slaughterhouse workers, who send cows to their death and cut them up, and who have nightmares that one day it will not be cows but humans they have to slaughter. This is the world they feel they live in: walking circles in the dirt, turning on conveyor belts, waiting to get the flesh ripped apart. The characters’ longing: There must be something more. 

    A few slaughterhouse workers, now Believers, follow a Prophet. He tells them he should have been a soldier, a king, a conqueror, Alexander the Great or Caesar, he should have slaughtered thousands, but as luck would have it, he is here, neither king nor soldier, merely a Prophet, and a mediocre one at that. After a monologue, he tells the Believers that they can go home now. They don’t go. “Don’t you have anywhere better to be?” They don’t. They don’t have a home anymore. “If a man has no place to live,” the Prophet says, “he should at least be able to move around the world freely like a storm, or a virus.” The Believers follow him, like cows on the conveyor belt to their death.  

    The characters seek meaning in religious ritual.

    “It’s a frightening world,” the Storyteller says, and the Magpie replies, “The world isn’t meant to reassure you.” The world of the play stubbornly refuses to offer comfort to its characters. They set out to find the More, the salvation that must be somewhere in the world – paradise, Eden. Only to end up on the same dirt they already knew. Is walking around in circles the same as standing still? Does the answer to that question make a difference? 

    A lump of pure flesh – no blood, no bone, just flesh, is dropped straight from the sky into the dirt. A sign from God, the Believers clamor. But the Prophet disagrees. Flesh is unclean. This is not the sign he was waiting for. Until the Old Prophet Elijah Himself appears to tell him: Yes, this is a sign. This is what you’re going to get. One of the play’s most impressive moments, maybe its thesis statement, is the Prophet’s response: “I want more than this.” I want more than this. They’ve left home behind in search of paradise, and this is what they get anyway: Flesh and dirt. 

    Your appetite is insatiable, Elijah says. You can try, you can learn the name of God and speak it, you can try to find More, to get to Eden, but you won’t. This world is as it is, is getting worse, and getting better, and staying the same, all over and over. 

    Eden is what you seek when you leave home, to find that More in a new better place, and then find out that in every place everything is still the same and you’re still the same. Eden is what you seek in the fantasy of going back to your father and hearing him tell you he loves you, to repair everything that was unrepaired then. Eden is what you seek in the new embrace of the pretty woman, just before she rejects and betrays you. The Magpie says: You should have listened to your mom. She already knew the ending of the story, of every story actually, because it’s all the same story, over and over again. Nostalgic inaccessible Eden of the past, desired blissful Eden of the future, and between them, trapped firmly in the ever present walking circles of flesh and dirt, the living person.  

    The Storyteller closes with a manifesto against storytelling, speaking directly to the audience: You want to make sense of it, but you won’t get to. You saw and yet you didn’t see. You are the believers, asking for a sign, but all that is written in God’s big plan is “change and indifference”. That’s all you get. Walking around in circles.  

    That’s what you get out of the play – confusion, frustration at trying to understand the deeper meaning, wanting More, understanding that you won’t find it. This generation asks for a sign, it isn’t going to get one. But maybe you got catharsis. 

    Eden, written by Luke Dunne and directed by Izzy Collie-Cousins, premiered on 7.3. and will be performed on 15.3. and 16.3. at Neues Schauspiel Leipzig.


    Fotos: Eliah Milan Grooß

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