Saturday, October 31, 2020

MARIELUISE FLEISSER’S PURGATORY IN INGOLSTADT

 

Marieluise Fleisser (1901-74) was born in the Barvarian (German) city of Ingolstadt situated on the banks of the Danube river. This is the city that she frequently left to seek the next stage of her life, but to which she always returned. Ingolstadt is a walled city with a long history. It was also known for having a military base that served as a basic training facility and maintained a stockade.  Following World War One, the military training center and prison were closed as required of Germany by the peace treaties signed during 1919 and 1920.

Purgatory in Ingolstadt (Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt) was Fleisser’s first play written in 1924 and it reflects teenage angst and relationships in Ingolstadt several years after World War One concluded. The play illustrates the lack of adult authority during this period with the two families in the play having only one parent each. The childhood of these teenagers was perverted by World War One and they gain their strength by banning together to be either against anyone that is different or any situation they do not comprehend.

Purgatory in Ingolstadt is a play written in six scenes. The characters in the first scene are the Berotter family members: three teenage children (Olga, the older daughter, Clementine, and Christian) and their father, Berotter. The other characters in this scene include Roelle, a teenage boy in love with both Olga and religion, Roelle’s Mother and Peps, Olga’s boyfriend who is the father of her unborn child.

Scene One takes place in the living room of Berotter’s home. Berotter is with his daughters Olga and Clementine. Soon Christian arrives home and joins the disputatious family discussion. The scene is less about story and more about revealing dysfunctional relationships between members of the family as well as among several of their teenage companions.

Scene Two is later the same day.  Olga, Peps, Hermione and Roelle are heard talking from backstage. Within two short speeches Peps forcefully drags Roelle on stage and he is followed by the two girls.  They appear to be just out and about since no specific location is indicated. The city of Ingolstadt also had a long tradition of being devoutly Catholic. The characters in the play have been educated by nuns and priests. Roelle is exceedingly influenced by the religious teachings.  This scene reflects these characters various levels of religious beliefs. Despite Peps education, he orders Olga to have an abortion. He declares “a child’s no use to me.” This scene as well as others in the play feature the unfiltered emotions and desires of teenage characters who are without plans for their future.

Scene Three takes place on “an avenue.” Protasius, a teenage boy who Olga fears, is pestering her and she is afraid. He wants her to be his contact with Roelle since Protasius has been ordered not to contact him. A Doctor Hahne wants to observe Roelle’s religiosity. Olga will not carry Protasius’s message to Roelle.

Scene Four is in a side alley at a fair. Roelle and Two Altar Servers are behind a gypsy’s caravan. Roelle is trying to prepare himself to appear before an audience at the fair. He is to demonstrate hearing the voices of angels.  When a frightened Roelle fails to communicate with the angels, stones are thrown at him until he collapses.

Scene Five is on a balcony between roofs at Berotter’s house. Roelle’s head is bandaged with blood seeping through. Olga, Clementine, Christian, Peps and Hermione are also in the scene and they are drinking wine.  Christian continuously goads Roelle. Eventually Olga starts to defend him. The bickering among the character subsides when Berotter arrives. Olga tells him she is having a child and he collapses. The teenagers leave.

Scene Six is a meadow on the bank of the Danube River. The scene starts with Protasius telling another boy that Olga has thrown herself into the river, but Roelle pulled her out. Protasius plans to go to a newspaper reporter and give him the story. After he leaves the scene, the other boys arrive including Olga and Roelle. The boys hassle both Olga and Roelle until Roelle’s Mother arrives and blames Olga for her son’s problems. Olga leaves and Roelle’s Mother fails to help her son who then turns against her.

This play clearly illustrates the dysfunctional family structure with neither any sense of parental authority nor idea of how to cope with the occurring radical social changes. There is antagonism between the generations and no structure to help the teenagers build a better future. It clearly illustrates that there is little or no hope for them to have a prosperous future.

Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958) a significant literary person in Germany during the 1920s, introduced Marieluise Fleisser to Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). Brecht was three year older than Fleisser and gaining recognition for his early plays. Fleisser had read Brecht’s plays had been impressed. She was pleased when Brecht asked to produce “Purgatory.”  He asked Moriz Seeler (1896-1942) who had founded the Junge Buhne (Young Stage) to direct this production for a single, showcase performance in his Berlin theatre. The play was premiered on April 25, 1926. Seeler changed the title of the play from “The Washing of the Feet” to Purgatory in Ingolstadt.  

Fleisser’s plays were banned in 1935 by the Nazis, but Fleisser had already retired from being a playwright and was a housewife living in Ingolstadt. “Purgatory” and several other of her plays were rediscovered in Germany during the early 1970’s. Prominent German directors began to stage these newly discovered works and they were favorably received. However, Fleisser’s plays were not available in English until 1990, when “Purgatory” was produced in London at the Gates Theatre. It premiered on March 1, 1990 to critical acclaim.

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