“No one wants to talk about it.” The waitress Hendrikje, as the only outside person at the wedding where entertainment It happens, hitting the nail on the head. In the early seventies, Leah marries her third husband, Nico: there are old songs and plays, old acquaintances and new faces, there is a big cake that doesn’t fit in the door, there are many plans for the future and especially very, very little talk about the past. It is precisely for this reason that the past resonates in all scenes.
entertainment It revolves around a Jewish family that has been scarred by World War II, but doesn’t want or can’t talk about it. It is considered one of the most important Dutch post-war plays. Judith Herzberg wrote the text in 1982 for the hubby Tunnelgroup. The main performance (directed by Leonard Frank) at Amsterdam’s Frascati Theatre, with most scenes set on the marked balconies above the stage, became legendary: people seemed to be lining up for tickets up to Dam Square.
The ‘Leedvermaak’ trilogy shows how the unhealed suffering of war is passed on from generation to generation
Thirteen years later, Herzberg wrote the sequel Decoration theme (1995) and then, at the request of the actors, The Final Piece Simon (2001). The entire trilogy takes place between 1972 and 1998: in this way we see how the untreated suffering of war is passed down from generation to generation. Now the three pieces can be seen for the first time—albeit in an abridged version—in one evening, as a five-hour marathon show by the National Heat Theater, directed by Eric de Frodt.
opening part entertainment De Vroedt sits on a nearly empty playing floor. It’s the space next door to the party, where different characters constantly bump into each other. He made them walk across the playing floor in essentially long, sloping lines, thus presenting this family as a group of chance passers-by: symmetrically they are also strangers to one another. Meanwhile, we sometimes get glimpses of the party next door through choppy footage projected on a screen: well-meaning but woody skits from relatives, bored looks from passersby who think they haven’t been seen; People were not used to having a camera at that time.
The sheer force of Herzberg’s text pays off immediately: her short, rhythmic dialogues about everyday trifles emerge, but from the second she hides a great and painful past. There is an uproar about the flowers, the question is whether they are the same flowers as at Nico’s previous wedding: you immediately feel that everything is at odds with everyone.
In the meantime, an exhibition is launched to the viewer, full of funny, touching or exciting short scenes: in addition to Lea and Nico’s close family, various former partners of the newlyweds were also called, including Nico’s ex-girlfriend Dory, who later gave birth to another child from Lea Simon’s father.
Herzberg’s theatrical script, with those subtle rhythmic and general scenes, is also a kind of composition: cheerful melody lines, punctuated by dark bass tones on an eccentric chord increasingly suggest greater drama. Its language is crystal clear and full of subtext, and it’s precisely this inconsistency that makes it especially fun and playable.
Combined with this very powerful script, De Vroedt has an impressive cast as a great tool. The silent battle between Lea’s biological mother Ada and her hiding mother Rhett – played by Betty Schurmann and Antoinette Gilgersma – is heartbreaking. For both, the other’s existence is seen as an indirect attack on their motherhood. At the same time, they are aware of the hypocrisy of this, which makes you as a spectator also feel great sympathy. Schuurman and Jelgersma play their characters with pride and dignity, but behind them is a deep pain that they find difficult to shape, a pain they may not always recognize.
decades of old age
In five hours we see most of the characters aging by several decades. We see this not only in cool clothes, hairstyles, and mustaches, but also in the actors’ bodies, facial expressions, and the use of voice and energy. Beautiful are the transformations, for example, Duifje (Bodil de la Parra), who grows up but tries to preserve her dignity. As Leah’s father, Simon, Jaap Speichers has managed to transcend decades through subtle dispositions and cautious looks: in beautiful close-up video renderings you see him in his hospital bed yearning to die and holding on to life at the same time. Tamar van den Dop plays Leah in the first part full of contagious flair and volatile stubbornness, in the final part Simon She is also 25 years older and battered, yet you can still see glimpses of that youthful brutality.
The music of the new European band (composed by composers Florentijn Boddendijk and Remco de Jong) is also evaluated against the times: from jazz formats to electronic soundtracks. Every now and then there is literally interaction between instrumentalists and musicians on the floor: these are fun perturbations of the code.
In his pure theater, De Vroedt mainly focuses on high tempo and light play. He often places intimate dialogues at such a great distance between characters that the words have to find their way to the other and arrive full of noise and explanations. He also regularly chooses forward play, so that the dialogue resonates through the audience at the opponent. The performance takes place both in large theaters and in small, flat-floor theaters, but seems to benefit above all from the intimacy, which allows the actors to play with little nuance. Especially with the younger generation in the third part, the emotion was sometimes too much in the great hall of the Utrecht Theater last week, that it remained so flat at times.
Read this too An interview with Judith Herzberg about fun
Sometimes the characters are overcome by memories of the war. Ada recounts how she was on the tram – after the war – and saw two men she suspected of being Germans entering: suddenly she felt the need to leave and get off the tram. Hein van der Heijden narrates the role of Nico’s father, in a heartbreaking monologue in Decoration theme, how his wife at Auschwitz was given a stone rolled up like a bar of soap before being brought into the gas chamber. “I’d like to forget that someday.” He said something before that: “Processing: If we could, wouldn’t we?” The helplessness that speaks of this hits hard.
Beautiful is the intimate scene between Leah and Dory (Mallow Gorter), on either side of Simon, who is dying at the end of Part III. Dory does not dare to stay with him during his struggle with death, and Leah does not dare to leave. Suddenly there was a convergence in their interaction, which was very cold before. They both lie on the bed, look deeply into each other’s eyes, and begin to laugh, at themselves, at each other and at each other, at all this pain: a sad and heartbreaking form of sudden closeness.
The fun trio It shows how war goes on: it doesn’t take hold very much, but skillfully clings to the days. This happens with untreated trauma: it mingles with everyday life, irreversibly infecting everyday existence. Yes, sometimes they are also very visible, but most often it is an invisible presence, a sniper. So we must keep mentioning it in conversations, in social debates, and in art. A new war has already begun here in Europe, but other wars are not yet over – though they may sometimes seem that way.