March 21 — May 11, 2003
LA WEEKLY – PICK OF THE WEEK!
by Rainer Fassbinder
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Maia Brewton, Maureen Byrnes, Laurence Coven, Szilvi Naray-Davey, David E. Frank, Mathew Gifford, Katharina Lejona, Steve Najarro, Bo Roberts, Kathryn Sheer
LA WEEKLY — PICK OF THE WEEK
March 26, 2003
by Steven Leigh Morris
KATZELMACHER is the German slang for “cat screwer,” which actually refers to somebody with an unbridled sex drive. In the case of Jorgos (Steve Najarro, bearing an expression of sweet bewilderment), in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s very first (1968) play, the label is a misnomer, an ethnic slur applied to this Greek (“foreign”) laborer in a provincial German town. Katzelmacher (in Denis Calandra’s translation) is some thing of an etude in which Fassbinder shows the stock jealousy and xenophobia that ensues after the migrant worker, who barely speaks the language, beds his employer (Maureen Byrnes) and draws the romantic attentions of the local women (Kathryn Sheer, Katharina Lejona and Szilvi Naray-Davey). Mean while, the guys (Mathew Gifford, Bo Roberts, Laurence Coven and David E. Frank) are barely employed yet too proud to work for the low wages that Jorgos plans on sending home to his wife and kids. Fassbinder is really looking at the psychological effects of money, at how the town’s orgasmic violence stems from its economic malaise — which, though a truthful idea, does little to explain the sadism of the rich. Frederique Michel smartly evokes the play’s 1966 setting (with Brigitte Bardot flip ‘dos and costume designer Erin Vincent’s one-piece leather minis) with an ensemble bereft of Hollywood lip enhancements and repaired teeth. Rather, they look plucked from the regions — perfect for this play’s ambiance. Michel stages the episodic scenes in the style of a cabaret, propelled by sound designer Jason Piazza’s percussion. Occasionally, the actors’ simultaneous foot stomping and tapping of the rails get a bit arch, but the production is a mostly disciplined and cogent examination of “otherness” that’s, distressingly, more apt than ever.
Fassbinder looks at youth culture
March 28, 2003
by David C. Nichols
The provocative genius of the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder dominates “Katzelmacher,” now at City Garage in Santa Monica. This 1968 debut by the icon of the Anti-Theatre receives a polished, pertinent realization. Set outside Munich in 1966, the plotless narrative traverses a group of lower- brow Bavarians. Embodying the restless youth culture then exploding across Europe, these miscreants are as promiscuous and casually deluded as their author is clear-eyed and acerbic in his objective delineation of their existence. Enter immigrant Jorgos (Steve Najarro, in the part originated by Fassbinder), the subject of the title epithet, an obscene allusion to foreign sexual behavior. This unwitting Greek unleashes a swirl of xenophobia, leading to sudden, primal violence.
Director Frédérique Michel and translator Denis Calandra honor Fassbinder’s ethos, linking the vignettes with hieratic interludes and rhythmic techniques. In tandem with Charles A. Duncombe Jr.’s production design and Erin Vincent’s costumes, the ultra-stylized approach suggests Bob Fosse doing Günter Grass on absinthe. Maia Brewton, Maureen Byrnes, Laurence Coven, David E. Frank, Mathew Gifford, Katharina Lejona, Szilvi Naray-Davey and Bo Roberts offer avid counterpoint to Najarro’s sweet incomprehension. Kathryn Sheer is touching as his paramour, a role created by Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla.
Curiously, Fassbinder’s deliberate detachment feels less viscerally compulsive than in the 1969 film. The tactics command intellectual attention without consistently demanding emotional reaction. This may be an inevitable casualty of 21st century desensitization, and the arid topicality of “Katzelmacher” couldn’t be more obvious, or recommended, regardless.
March 26, 2003
Reviewed By Leigh Kennicott
“Katzelmacher” is Bavarian slang for a foreigner but translates to something like “someone who screws like a cat.” Therein lies this simple yet arbitrarily violent tale “at the intersection of prejudice and fear,” by the German phenomenon Rainer Fassbinder. Into the small-town doldrums of disaffected youth in the mid-1960s the first of a wave of “guest workers” arrives from Greece. Jorgos (Steve Najarro) is accorded much credit for mythological sexual prowess. When he takes up with Marie (Kathryn Sheer), the ire of the hometown boys cannot be contained. Under the tightly controlled direction of Frederique Michel, the 70-minute play records the rising tension that finally explodes into senseless violence.
Fassbinder is known for his gritty, uncompromising portraits of Germany during the social upheaval of the late ’60s and early ’70s. This, his first play, throbs with misplaced sexuality and ennui. But Michel has transcended his short, shocking, cinematic playwriting technique to create a uniquely stylized and ultimately compelling portrait of that period, and opened up the play by incorporating elements from Fassbinder’s subsequent film.
Her production opens on Charles A. Duncombe Jr.’s eminently workable set: four spaces interspersed around the central courtyard of an apartment block where the out-of-work-youth congregate. The couples come together, part, and return to one another in a metaphoric, driving dance, thus setting a tone that will repeat at each of Fassbinder’s blackout transitions. Michel’s technique smoothes but does not camouflage his disjointed, brutal snippets of dialogue.
The actors are put through their paces with a uniform precision reminiscent of Edward Gordon Craig, who once advocated actors as marionettes. Yet they manage to imprint their characters with unique qualities. Lawrence Coven plays a pathetic clown, who has to pay to peep at Ingrid’s (Szilvi Naray-Davey) lovely breasts. Naray-Davey’s long body works well to convey the disgust and disdain she has for her steady source of income. Mathew Gifford is the jilted jittery town heartthrob, who must exact revenge. David E. Frank and Maia Brewton do the most with their sidekick roles. Katherine Lejona is the epitome of mod. As the powerful factory owner, Maureen Byrnes exudes disdain, especially for her live-in lover (Bo Roberts). All the production elements work well to convey a sense of this not-so-distant era. Along with the aforementioned set design, the costuming by Erin Vincent is eerily on target. The music, also designed by Duncombe, helps as well.