A man without qualities

Last friday I went to the theater to watch the first part of The Man Without Qualities by the company Toneelhuis. The short abstract taken from their website should be sufficient to understand the basic storyline for those of you not familiar with the book:

The first part of a trilogy based on the novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities) by the Austrian writer Robert Musil. The novel has two main story-lines: a political satire and a love story. Ulrich, the man without qualities, is the pivotal figure in both stories.

The Man Without Qualities I tells how in 1913 the Viennese beau monde comes together to make preparations for the seventieth anniversary of Franz-Josef’s reign in 1918. Much against his will, Ulrich becomes the secretary of this organization, which brings him into contact with the representatives of a society in a downward spiral. This provides plenty of scope for Musil’s harsh, satirical side. He portrays a panorama of characters whom he describes with varying degrees of mockery: the omnipresent Diotima, the patriotic and conservative senator Count Leinsdorf, the arrogant German industrialist Paul Arnheim, the comical general Stumm von Bordwehr, etc. An important topic of discussion, apart from the preparations, is the murderer and sexual deviant Moosbrugger. By means of this colourful parade of characters Musil describes a society living on a volcano, as yet unaware of its imminent eruption.

I have to say, I’m very glad I went to see this 160-minute-long play. These great actors move through a visually strong decor based upon The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci and Entry of Christ into Brussel by James Ensor. Parts of the paintings appear everywhere, cut out and blown up. The usage of these paintings clearly serves the purpose of portraying the Ulrich character as a Christ. Albeit a bit of a passive saviour. Ulrich is almost a colourless person amidst the other characters. Trying very hard to not make a decision about anything.

If you get the change to see this play, I’d strongly advice you to do it. I enjoyed it very much and judging by the reactions afterwards I wasn’t the only one who did.


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