… I thought as the lights came up on yet more people scribbling on the white walls of the set for Heart of Darkness (Herz de Finsternis) at the Deutsches Theater.
This was before they lowered the 30-foot tall skeleton puppets with the pelvises full of mud.
Which, incidentally, happened pretty early on in the piece.
Ok, I love theater a lot, and I love Joseph Conrad a lot, which made sitting through this 3-hour experimental adaptation of his novel (which was entirely in German, a language I do not speak) actually pretty fun. But, I don’t think all that much was gained from the 30-foot-mud-pelvis-puppets. Unfortunately, because they were so huge, only their heads moved with any fluidity, so, while they certainly changed your perception of the space of the room, their most powerful moment was 2 minutes after their entrance when they went from being puppets to being swaying jungle-scape trees. Hard to explain, but cool. But then they sat there for the rest of the piece.
So, basically with the entrance of the puppets (maybe a little before), the show stopped being about walls and started being about getting dirty. Like, covered in mud from head to toe, super dirty, dirty.
Let me say, mud is a prop, so I have what I like to think of as Mud Experience. But I’ve never seen mud like this. Smooth, yet thick and sticky, it was an awesome shade of dark brown, it stuck beautifully to their bodies, and dried incredibly slowly on their faces and the walls. Also, it rinsed off easily onstage. Wowza. Get me some of that German mud.
Mud, blood, water, powder/ashes, paint etc etc (all of which had moments in this show), are props that throw the prop master directly into the world of the costume/wardrobe people. With good reason. Everybody loves the way a woman in a beautiful dress getting mud slinged at her looks… but someone has to care about how that dress gets beautiful-looking again for the next performance.
Which is why when several of the characters in Herz de Finsternis walked onstage in clean white suits, took handfuls of mud from the Mud Pelvis, and smeared it all over their faces as fake beards and hair, my hand jumped to my heart for the wardrobe people. “The horror! The horror!”
In fact, by the end of the first act, every single costume, actor, and the entire set was completely covered in mud. During intermission I counted TWELVE crew members cleaning it up. I even took a surreptitious photo:
Go German Deck Crew! Go!
There was more in the second half… they got cleaned up only to get completely dirty again, and the puppets disappeared, and they had the Coolest Cannons Ever (hollow tubes made from foam and foam core that were filled from a smoke machine and emitted little puffs of smoke when tapped on the back ends), and there was some good acting — I think, but I had no idea what they were saying — all in all quite an evening.