The Rathaus near my apartment is the cultural center of a village like Garching, where I live near Munich. And there is an active Kultur calendar with various groups coming in one or two nights a week to play here. The auditorium is not very big, maybe twice as big as the mini-theater where my son’s theater group performs, although all the chairs are on one level, with a large raised stage in front.
I have been seeing scandalous posters for the Berlin Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Wie es Euch Gefällt! (As You Like It!) at the Garching U-Bahn station for several weeks now. I decided to walk over last night and see if I could get a ticket at the last minute.
I have had great success getting last minute tickets at the theater at home for popular shows, although I’ve learned to take my small pair of binoculars, since I’ve had to sit in the last row of the auditorium on several occasions. Last night as I walked up to the box office about a half hour before the show there was a woman standing there hoping to sell a ticket she bought and couldn’t use. Only €10 for a €20 ticket. “Oh, sehr gut,” I said, handing the cash over. “But you will have to sit beside me,” she said. “Oh, sehr, sehr gut,” I replied, giving her a big smile. Great seats. Third row, near the aisle.
She was a woman about my age, and her husband wasn’t able to attend the show tonight. We started chatting in German, and it was obvious I was struggling a bit. She switched to English and I carried on in German for a little while, until I finally had to cry “Uncle.” It turns out her son just graduated from the University of Colorado with an MBA and works in Colorado. She had been visiting recently for his graduation. Her husband’s father was an American soldier. Small world, indeed.
I explained that I didn’t have much hope of understanding what was going on here, but I was somewhat familiar with Shakespeare from an earlier incarnation in college as an English major, and I knew this was a comedy, so I thought I might be able to hang on by my finger tips. I told her she might have to help me out every now and then. She took her job seriously, and several times during the show would lean over and whisper “snake”, or whatever it was the actors were talking about that she thought I wouldn’t know. (Most of the time, I did know, which was completely to the actor’s credit.)
I am sure I would have enjoyed it more had I known more than every fourth or fifth word, but Shakespeare writes about timeless themes and this point is made clearer when you watch a play in a language you don’t understand. There was a rhythm to the words that sounded as much like Shakespeare to me as any play I have heard in English. And the actors were outstanding. If ever there was a play designed for my son, Jonathan’s, acting abilities and comic sensibility, this is it. Every role is juicy and funny, and every male actor reminded me of him as I watched.
But the Germans are a tough audience. There were several times when I noticed I was the only one laughing. The actors start by roaming around outside the theater before the show, interacting with the well-dressed patrons like the buffoons they are about to become. The Germans react coolly. No smiles. No eye contact. “What the hell is this?,” you can hear them muttering out the sides of their mouths to each other, thinking this was the evening for the oboe concerto. “Bunch of Americans speaking German,” they are thinking. And when things get going, and the big burly guy is now a dog named Shakespeare, sniffing around some of the other actors in places he probably shouldn’t be, I seem to be the only one who thinks this play is hysterically funny. Everybody else is still withholding judgement. For goodness sake, people, lighten up!
At the end, the actors do get heartfelt applause, it seems to me, and several curtain calls. But I’m about 10 feet from one of the actors as he takes his bows, and the look on his face suggests he is already thinking about a beer and removing Garching from any future travel plans the company is making. Long night, his face says, and I feel for him. They all deserve better for their gallant effort.