Saturday, June 9, 2018


    (If you have not read the previous post discussing GAS I, I suggest that you read it first.)

Georg Kaiser (1878-1945) completed the third play of his trilogy in 1920 and titled it Gas II (Gas zweiter Teil). Although this script is also written in the Expressionist style, it is more abstract in its visual elements, details of location, dialogue, and characterizations than Gas I.  Bernard Diebold (1886-1945) a Swiss theatre critic, in his book Anarchy in Drama (1921), states that Gas II is “the leanest drama of world literature: a skeleton.”  This observation should become obvious upon reading my abbreviated recount of the plot of Gas II.

Gas II “takes place in the same country as that of Gas I, but a generation later.”  The protagonist is Billionaire Worker.  He is the grandson of Billionaire’s Son from Gas I.  Act I is set in a Concrete Hall of the Gas Factory. Light beams from arc-lamps illuminate three small iron tables to the right and three to the left. A “Figure in Blue” is stiffly seated at each table. There is a seventh Figure in Blue designated as “First Figure in Blue” and he is seated a short distance from the others at a longer iron table checkered like a chess-board with green and red light plugs that reflect color on the actor’s face as they are switched on and off. 

Each Blue Figure either reports about a fighting sector related to the on-going war that has the country in its grip or the level of gas production related to the factories. The language is repetitive. Men are seen on stage for the first time as a part of their machines. When control lights flash on to indicate incoming information, the humans become part of the machines since they merely report the information in rote fashion.

Chief Engineer (from Gas I) is the elder leader of the Blue Figures. He reports “Turmoil everywhere!” Plant Workers are leaving their work stations. The act ends with the shout “No Gas!”

Act Two is in a similar Concrete Hall.  The hall is full of the workers who have left their work stations. They rhapsodize about their new sense of freedom.  Billionaire Worker joins the workers and urges them to spread their freedom message “over all the world.” First Figure in Blue arrives and urges Billionaire Worker to get the Workers to return to work since their country is engaged in a war. Billionaire Worker refuses since he strives to defend the legacy of his grandfather. Figures in Yellow, the enemy, arrive and take over the Gas plant. Chief Engineer demands everyone return to work.

Act Three. Same Concrete Hall as Act One. Seven Figures in Yellow are seated at the tables. Each states his report from the machine that indicates production is below quota. Chief Engineer arrives and informs the Figures in Yellow that the Workers will no longer supply the enemy with gas. Chief Engineer, who is now siding with the Workers, claims he created a poison gas. Despite Billionaire Worker's pleas to the contrary, the Workers vote to release the poison gas that will destroy all of humanity.

                                                        Concrete Hall with seven tables

This play is constructed around an idea rather than a story. Kaiser focused on his perception that humans have become merely part of a machine. Each character is a cog in the wheel of the industrial society, especially during a time of war.  Kaiser’s automaton characters tend to share a single reaction to a given situation. Their responses indicate a lack of conscience.

Kaiser’s Gas II demonstrates that revenge becomes the dominant motivation when identity is lost. Kaiser no longer believed that the implementation of the “New Man” philosophy could save humanity. During the conclusion of Gas II, Billionaire Worker concedes to the vote by the Workers. He throws the glass ball with poison gas into the air.  With this action, Billionaire Worker initiates Judgement Day.

Both Gas I and Gas II mirror some of the events that had taken place in Germany near the end of the war, such as the strikes by the workers and the government taking control of factories.  These two plays also reflect the citizens desire to end the war rather than fight to the bitter end. It further depicts the exhaustion of the workers as well as the scarcity of materials that were needed to continue the war effort.

Gas II was written when Kaiser’s work was rapidly gaining popularity.  The final play of the trilogy was met with anticipation. It was premiered on October 29, 1920 by Vereinigte Deutsche Theater in Brunn. The Neues Theater Frankfurt also presented the play in 1920. Berthold Viertel (1885-1953) quickly directed a notable production in Dresden. Other productions were staged throughout the country.

The Direct Theatre, an Off-Off Broadway theatre company, produced Thom Thomas’s (1935-2015) adaptation of Kaiser’s “Gas” trilogy at New York City’s La MaMa Theatre in December, 1978. This adaptation reduced the approximately nine hours playing time for the entire trilogy to one hour forty-five minutes without intermission.

Gas II was originally published in 1920 by Gustav Kiepenhever, Potsdam. It was translated into English by Winifred Katzin (1896-1998). I read her translation in Twenty-Five Modern Plays edited by S. Marion Tucker (1931).  A later English translation was done by B. J. Kenworthy and it was published in England by Calder & Boyars Ltd., 1971.  Kenworthy demotes the protagonist in Gas I from Billionaire’s Son to Millionaire’s Son as well as Billionaire Worker in Gas II to Millionaire Worker.

The Gas trilogy is a fascinating piece of theatre as well as unique dramatic literature. To understand  and appreciate the “Gas” trilogy requires the three plays to be seen on stage or read. This work  deserves to be remembered.

1. GEORG KAISER photo. Kenworthy, B.J. GEORG KAISER. Oxford: 
          Basil Blackwell, 1957.
2. GAS II. Acts I & III scenery from Neues Theater production. Kenworthy, B.  J.
         GEORG KAISER. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957.

No comments:

Post a Comment