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The Königsweg to Hell is paved with good intentions

Elfriede Jelinek’s Trump-inspired play Am Königsweg at the Deutsches Theater falls flat. June 3, 8, 26 (with English surtitles)

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Photo by Arno Declair

The best thing I can say about Am Königsweg, Elfriede Jelinek’s new play staged by Stephan Kimmig at the Deutsches Theater, is that it’s reassuring to see that someone who won the Nobel Prize for Literature can botch a piece of writing as splendidly as the rest of us. She started working on it the day Trump won the election and finished it by his inauguration – an attempt at an impassioned cry against the ascendancy of phallic authoritarian populism, but both the humour and social critique are too trite and adolescent to have much effect. We’ve all been bombarded daily by the shamelessness of Trump and the largely ineffective response to him. Anyone wishing to enter this discourse in a noteworthy way needs to work hard to come up with a fresh perspective; allusions to Trump’s line about blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s “wherever” seem stale at this point.

Kimmig and set designer Katja Haß don’t help matters any. Haß places almost all the action in a gigantic kitchen without any aim at metaphorical insight; the kitchen just makes it more convenient to use sausages and cucumbers for dick jokes or to spray a sauce on an actress as if it were ejaculate. (Some actors lick it off right away, if that makes you feel better.) When he’s not using kitchen props for sophomoric humour, Kimmig can seem devoid of ideas for moving his actors. At one point, the two women in the cast are exchanging vaguely feminist lines about having “an expiration date” after which their value is no longer recognised; as they chat, they sit around a short table lamp on the floor, scratching the lamp shade or wiggling their fingers above it. One can find a meaning behind almost anything, but to me the primary signification was of the desperate grasping of a director out of ideas.

Am Königsweg, June 3, 8, 26 (with English surtitles)