De misdaad. De man zonder eigenschappen III

24, 25/05 - 20:15
1h 30min

Centred on different parts of Robert Musil’s iconic novel, the three chapters in the trilogy that Guy Cassiers has dedicated to The Man without Qualities offer a similar number of viewpoints of a society dancing on a powder keg without any idea that it is about to explode. However through this prismatic portrait of a decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire, the director lays bare the relationship between the individual, politics and power. After the last supper in De parallelactie (The Parallel Action) and the impossible refuge in Het mystieke huwelijk (The Mystic Marriage), the final part of the cycle is a retrospective monologue. From his prison cell, murderer and rapist Moosbrugger meditates on his crimes, opening out before us the blind violence that lurks beneath the thin veneer known as “civilisation”. But Moosbrugger is also Musil himself. In De misdaad (The Crime), actor Johan Leysen mingles the reflections of the assassin and the writer. For isn’t the artist a criminal of a kind as well?

Guy Cassiers

Robert Musil

Text adaptation
Yves Petry

Erwin Jans

Artistic collaborator
Luc De Wit

Performed by
Johan Leysen, Liesa Van der Aa

Guy Cassiers, Enrico Bagnoli

Light design
Enrico Bagnoli

Sound design
Diederik De Cock in collaboration with Liesa Van der Aa

Video editing
Frederik Jassogne/vzw Hangaar

Costume design
Belgat (Valentine Kempynck)

Production management
Stefaan Deldaele

Technical production management
Joost Man

Direction assistant
Lut Lievens

Video technics
Bram Delafonteyne

Sound technics
Tom Daniels

Light technics
Lucas Van Haesbroeck

Monique Van Hassel

Erik Borgman

Technicians Bourla
Ilse Van Den Dorpel, Maarten Meeussen, Philip De Witte, Frederik Liekens, Koen Deveux

Kostuumatelier Toneelhuis (Christiane De Feyter, Erna Van Goethem)

Set construction
Decoratelier Toneelhuis (Karl Schneider, Patrick Jacobs, Jan Palinckx)

Thanks to
Jason Saraigh

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre National de la Communauté française

Toneelhuis (Antwerp)

Holland Festival (Amsterdam), Les Théâtres De La Ville De Luxembourg, Maison De La Culture d’Amiens, CDN Orléans, deSingel (Antwerp)

The script is based on the Dutch translation of Ingeborg Lesener © 1988/1989/1996 Ingeborg Lesener & Uitgeverij J.M. Meulenhoff Bv (Amsterdam)

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De Misdaad (The Crime)

De Misdaad (The Crime) is the third part of Guy Cassiers' three-part theatre cycle De man zonder eigenschappen (The Man Without Qualities), based on the eponymous novel by Robert Musil (1880-1942). Cassiers asked the Flemish writer Yves Petry to write the finale to the trilogy around two figures: the murderer Moosbrugger, a character from the novel, and the writer Robert Musil himself.

Robert Musil died on 15 April 1942 in Geneva, and two days later he was cremated in the presence of eight people. Musil had presumed he would live to celebrate his 80th birthday and that he would have enough time to finish his novel The Man Without Qualities. At the same time, he was consumed by doubt - doubt as to whether he would succeed, and as to whether it still made any sense. What, in 1942, at the height of the Nazi conquest of Europe, was the point of working on a panorama of the old world of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1913, just before the outbreak of the First World War? Musil feared that his work was no longer topical, that the world had changed too much. Yet he was also convinced that he was writing a crucial book. History ultimately proved him right. Having achieved the status of an unfinished symphony, his novel is now widely seen as one of the most important European novels of the twentieth century.

The Man Without Qualities is a colourful and satirical panorama of a society dancing on a volcano, unaware of the impending eruption. The eruption in question was the First World War, while the society in question was the vast multi-national and -cultural Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was both Imperial and Royal, ‘kaiserlich und königlich' or ‘k. und k.', hence the name ‘Kakanien' Musil mockingly gave it. The Empire's unity was under pressure from the various nationalisms, and this tension would ultimately lead to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, a conflict that would put a brutal and definitive end to Old Europe.

The first part of the three-part cycle - De Parallelactie (The Parallel Action) - is set in pre-World War One Vienna. The city was the capital of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. The highest circles of Viennese society want to celebrate the seventy-year reign of Emperor Franz Joseph - he ascended the throne in 1848 - with great pomp. They thus assemble in the Great Patriotic Action (the ‘parallel action'), which must gather ideas in search of the highest all-encompassing idea. But it soon emerges that no single all-encompassing idea exists and that participants in the Great Patriotic Action have very different agendas. A monstrous alliance of nationalist, right-wing, military and capitalist forces is on the verge of undermining the unity of the Empire.

The first part ended with Ulrich learning about his father's death. In the opening of the second part, Het Mystieke Huwelijk (The Mystic Marriage), we meet Ulrich again in the family home, where, after many years, he meets his sister Agathe. Although they grew up together as children, they were separated when they went to boarding school, and though they are brother and sister, they hardly know one another. During their conversations they recollect a summer they spent together as children. Ulrich and Agathe keep growing closer to one another, even though they realise the impossibility of their situation, their relationship being overshadowed by the threat of incest.

The third part, De Misdaad (The Crime), sharpens the focus somewhat. Indeed, the cycle as a whole offers an increasingly focused view: part one offers a panoramic overview of society; part two penetrates the intimacy of a couple; part three descends into the dark depths of the subconscious. Yves Petry was asked by Guy Cassiers to write the play, for which he drew on both the novel and Musil's biography. Two ‘couples' take centre stage in De Misdaad: Moosbrugger and a nameless prostitute, as well as Musil and the love of his youth, Herma.

Moosbrugger is a character from The Man Without Qualities. A rapist and murderer, his gruesome killing of a prostitute and subsequent trial attracted the attention of the other characters in the first two parts of the theatre cycle. Moosbrugger was a hot topic of conversation. Although they are unaware of this, for them he is a ‘doer', literally someone who has committed an ‘action' - no matter how gruesome -, one which highlights their own inaction and indecision. Moosbrugger becomes the embodiment of their deepest, most hidden urges. Moosbrugger himself is given a voice in the third part, and is joined onstage by the writer himself. Yves Petry drew on a chapter from Musil's young adulthood. In the winter of 1901, Musil made the acquaintance of Hermine Dietz, who worked in a drapery shop and with whom he started a relationship. Musil's diary entry for 2 March 1902 is the first mention of his syphilis infection, which he probably caught during a visit to a brothel and for which he was given an 18-month mercury and iodine treatment. In the spring/summer of 1906, Herma suffered a syphilitic miscarriage. It is highly probable that Musil passed on his infection to her, although he tried to minimise his guilt by accusing Herma of cheating on him. Relations with his own parents grew strained, as they insisted on him breaking off the affair and reaching a settlement with Herma. In early November Herma passed away. Musil was not at her deathbed since he was travelling at the time. The impact of her death on Musil was devastating. This emerges clearly from an entry in his diary, in which, using the third person, he describes how he felt when he saw her lifeless body: ‘And Robert was reminded of this body when it was alive and how it shuddered and nestled against him and didn't rest before it had made a safe little nest for itself in bed and said: "My boy, my dear, dear boy of mine, only now am I happy, only now are you entirely mine...." And the tears fell from his eyes. But they didn't bring him any relief. Buried deep was a persevering pain, which they couldn't solve - and it drove Robert through the room and made him sink his teeth into the clothes Herma had left hanging on the wall'. Musil's biographer Karl Corino notes next to this passage: ‘Neither before nor after did Musil ever feel and express such despair - and he soon felt embarrassed by it'. Musil later worked through his affair with Herma and her death in Tonka (1924). In this novella, Musil tried to exonerate himself of his guilt by depicting Tonka as an adulterous woman, despite her allegations to the contrary. He even allows himself to claim that the doctors ‘never detected an illness' in his hero. He does all he can not to name Tonka's ‘terrible, grave, sneaking illness'. And for his hero it was certain that ‘he was neither the father of Tonka's child, nor the cause of her illness'. Musil even omitted the heartbreaking deathbed scene from the novella. For Corino, Herma's death was ‘one of the most painful moments of [Musil's] life'.

So much for the autobiography and literary adaptation. In De Misdaad, Yves Petry also pursues another direction. Appearing as spirits, the women confront the murderer and the writer with their (mis)deeds. Are they the voices in their heads? Common sense? Indifference? Normality? What drove these two men to do what they did? What do they represent? Genius? An exception? An aberration?

‘Murderer and writer seal their fine alliance in the hope that they will not have to be ashamed, when facing their judges (whether they are imaginary or not), that what they said, thought and did, no matter how exceptional, was ultimately not all that decisive. That the crime had little meaning, that the writing was not of overriding importance'.

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Guy Cassiers (b. 1960) is one of Europe's leading theatre-makers. His idiosyncratic theatre work in which his passion for visual technology and literature make a successful marriage, has won him acclaim at home and abroad. In recent years Guy Cassiers has concentrated on the complex relationships between art, politics and power in his Triptiek van de macht (Triptych of Power) (Mefisto for ever, Wolfskers (Belladonna), and Atropa. De wraak van de vrede (Atropa. Avenging peace). He continues to build on this theme in a new triptych based on Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities), Robert Musil's great novel. The kaleidoscopic story of Viennese society just before the outbreak of the First World War becomes a mirror of the social and political confusion of our own time. Along with visual technology, music has begun to play an increasingly important role in Cassiers' productions, as exemplified by the two operas he created in 2009: House of the Sleeping Beauties (music Kris Defoort) and Adam in ballingschap (Adam in Exile) (music Rob Zuidam). Perhaps it is no coincidence that he is currently staging Wagner's Ring in Berlin and Milan. Likewise Guy Cassiers' growing interest in European political history is reflected in his latest projects Bloed & rozen. Het lied van Jeanne en Gilles (Blood & Roses. The Song of Joan and Gilles) about the power and manipulation of the Church, and Duister Hart (after Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) about European colonial history. However, those who go and see SWCHWRM - a play about a boy who decides to become a writer and discovers it is not that easy after all - will know that Guy Cassiers is also capable of striking a lighter note.

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