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Midlife mothers, dancing daughters

From youthful ire to midlife mediocrity, playwright Sibylle Berg's theatrical machinations evoke challenging questions about modern-day femininity. Catch her latest offering, Und Dann Kam Mira, at the Maxim Gorki October 1, 23 and 27.

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Ute Langkafel

When we last met these women, they were young. And they were angry. At men, at tyrannical fitness trends, at silly makeup advice, at the online drug trade, at the world.

That was in 2013’s Es sagt mir nichts, das sogennante Draußen, the crackling triumph that opened Shermin Langhoff’s tenure as artistic director at the Maxim Gorki. And now, in Und dann kam Mirna, playwright Sibylle Berg has brought the girls back. This time, they’re “Anfang, Mitte, Ende Dreißig”. And while they’re far from placid, their frenzied anger has morphed into broader frustration at how mediocre everything is – at the realization that maybe they’re not such special snowflakes, or at least that their childhood wasn’t traumatic enough for a bestselling memoir. Without Migrationshintergrund, how are they supposed to get any meaningful attention? 

That’s not the only challenge: Thanks to “a sexual act that was the equivalent of a daisy-covered traffic roundabout,” there’s a child to contend with. Her name is Mirna, and she has very different hopes for life. While Mum dreams of a utopian commune in the Brandenburg countryside, Mirna wants boring Spießereltern. Maybe a career in biochemistry. Perhaps a nice religious community. Order. Predictability. Monotony. Definitely not late-night conversations in dirty kitchens, and definitely not drunken fan letters to David Guetta.

As in Es sagt mir nichts, director Sebastian Nübling puts the ensemble (Rahel Jankowski, Suna Gürler, Cynthia Micas and new addition Çiğdem Teke) on a bare stage before a slate-grey backdrop. The four performers – all wearing dowdy flowered dresses and oversized glasses – share the text, delivering it sometimes in unison, sometimes in ferocious back-and-forth exchanges, sometimes in slam poetry-style solos. Frenetic bits of dance, again choreographed by Tabea Martin, punctuate the text: when describing the twitchy infants in their wombs, the performers burst into spasms. Imagine some ungainly mix of ballet and kickboxing, with the occasional attempt at a sexy street shimmy. It’s movement that revels in its delightful incongruity.

And then comes Mirna. The production features four young actresses, ages 8 to 12, all in pink Adidas jackets, jean shorts and white knee socks. They enter stomping, their ponytails swinging, to toss stacks of books and giant stuffed tigers – it’s moving day – over the edge of the stage. There are several smart moments of interaction and imitation between the two teams, with the younger quartet generally radiating more self-control and maturity. As the women whirl and flail, the girls plant their hands in their pockets, turn down their mouths and complain about having to be the adult in the relationship.

Author Berg has one of the sharpest tongues out there – take a gander at her Twitter feed or Spiegel columns – and it’s satisfying to hear her smart, sarcastic turns of phrase delivered by such switched-on performers. There’s talk of “precision instruments designed as bodies” and “bilingual yoga kindergarten.” But Berg isn’t just sending up silly societal trends. She’s also got biting stuff to say about motherhood – about how “reproduction is still the perfect method for disposing of women,” about how popping out a baby means you’re no longer entitled to pop out opinions. It’s funny because it’s true: does anyone ever question a man’s ability to run for office or lead a company because he has offspring on the way? So why, Berg asks, do we have reentry programs for prisoners but not for mothers?

Yet for all its strengths, Und dann kam Mirna suffers from mild sequelitis. The formula isn’t as fresh this time around, and there’s not the breathless energy or galvanizing rage of the first installment. To an extent, that’s probably inevitable. But if this is really going to become a neverending series (as Berg said she wants, “God, ISIS and Gorki willing”), we need a new ingredient before the next chapter – Und dann kam Menopause? – arrives. 

UND DANN KAM MIRNA Oct 1, 23, 27, 19:30 | Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.