On one side the “Threepenny Opera” towers like a skyscraper, on the other side “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” casts long shadows. And in between there is, largely unnoticed, “Happy End”, the centerpiece of the Songspiel trilogy that Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht created between 1928 and 1930. After all, some of the musical numbers have become hits – Mandalay’s song, “Surabaya Johnny”, Sailor Tango, “Bill’s Ballroom in Bilbao”, “And with tomorrow you can me”.
But the story designed by Elisabeth Hauptmann just can’t keep up with the two masterpieces. A ruthless criminal falls in love with a naïve Salvation Army girl, so both are expelled from their milieus. In a finale brought about with a dramaturgical crowbar, however, the conflicting spheres are suddenly reconciled – because they have identified a new, common enemy: capitalism. The play concludes with the famous agitprop slogan “What is breaking into a bank compared to founding a bank?”.
Barrie Kosky recently brought out The Threepenny Opera at the Berliner Ensemble and Mahagonny at his Komische Oper. In the Renaissance Theater, Sebastian Sommer is now picking up the crumbs and staging “Happy End” (further performances until July 10). Philip Rubner and Alexander Grüner put a rotating box on the mini stage for him, which can be atmospherically illuminated with elegant light strips.
In it, around it, under it and on top of it, the eleven-member ensemble performs the crude story as a mixture of gangster comedy, bohemian sauvage soiree and stylized social drama. Sommer exaggerates the characters, caricatures their predictable behavior, but never ridicules them. Because for him, these bizarre types are all lost souls, seeking protection who flee under the roof of dubious communities – the church or the mafia – who lure with vague promises and demand complete submission. The slapstick interludes function as an alienation effect, as a pointer in the figurative sense of epic theater: Look here, dear people, we are playing a parable!
So the director doesn’t have to do any contortions to make the amour fou of his protagonists understandable, the sudden infatuation that breaks out over Lilian Holiday and Bill Cracker.
Because in the cold, evil world of Happy End, everyone is looking for a little human affection. Gabriel Schneider plays the tough dog as a wiry little boy, whirls like an underworld Fred Astaire across the scene and belts out his performance song with a great musical voice. Sophia Euskirchen sounds rather rough jazzy, to which her erotically aroused missionary always makes a disarming my-heart-is-clean face. And all the other actors sing their numbers devotedly, often with the courage to be ugly. They are cheered on by Harry Ermer’s band of seven, who bang out Kurt Weill’s sophisticated rhythms with appropriate snotiness.