Based on three novels by Thomas Bernhard: »Eve of Retirement«, »Ritter, Dene, Voss«, »Extinction« / Repertoire
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It is late afternoon on the seventh of October. In the parental home of Vera, Clara, and Rudolf Höller a birthday party is being prepared. The three siblings have grown old here together. They cannot free themselves from the clutches of their past, and play an eternal game of power and subjugation, clinging and humiliation. In another house which used to belong to their parents, two sisters prepare a celebratory meal for their brother’s return from a psychiatric hospital. Here, too, the atmosphere is full of the tension of their coexistence, their spiteful opposition, talking against the burdens of childhood, and fear of the future.
The last feast of life, a funeral, is being prepared at Schloss Wolfsegg. Amalia and Cecilia await their brother Franz for the burial of their parents, who have died in a car crash. Franz Murau, who fled his family past for a life in Rome, returns as the sole inheritor and wishes only to “erase everything that I understand Wolfsegg to be and all that Wolfsegg is”.
Three families, three similar constellations of siblings that are marked both by “excessive infantilism” (»Ritter, Dene, Voss«) and proximity to death. In all three families the neurotic structures resemble each other, with a political acuteness in »Eve of Retirement« and »Extinction« that gives the everyday a scandalous dimension. The Höllers, long after the Second World War, secretly celebrate Heinrich Himmler’s birthday. Behind the mask of the righteous presiding judge Rudolf Höller hides a Nazi, former concentration camp commander and violent criminal, who gives meaning to his life by continuously glorifying the fascist past. Vera is his fanatical ally, while Clara acts as their opponent. But she, too, is ultimately unable to escape the perverse prison of her home.
Franz Murnau is similarly entangled and tortured: For years after the end of the war, his parents hid Nazi leaders in their so-called “children’s villa” at Wolfsegg. The family history sickens him. Even worse is the realisation that their catholic, national-socialist upbringing continues to occupy not just his sisters’ minds, but also his own.
In all three texts, Thomas Bernhard deals with family constellations that make people susceptible to authoritarian-patriarchal world views and, in two of these, fascist ideas. When »Eve of Retirement« premiered in 1979, the critic Benjamin Henrichs wrote that the extraordinary quality of the text lay in the fact that Bernhard described this susceptibility not from an enlightened and safe distance, but from an alarming proximity, seeking to exhibit this vulnerability in each of us. It is an alarming path, which Karin Henkel’s production aims to follow and examine through the juxtaposition of these related family portraits. In particular since Vera’s prophecy, "There will come a time, says Rudolf, when he will no longer be forced to celebrate Himmler's birthday secretly in his house", has become sadly topical.