© Man Ray 2015 Trust / ADAGP — Bildrecht, Wien — 2019, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Photo: Scala, Florenz
‘No interpretation! That was the arrangement for our game, was it not?’
‘Yes, that’s what we agreed.’
A group of people gather together. Without mentioning age, gender, nationality or the size of the group, the author brings people together, as many ‘as this game of ours will need’. A conversation unfolds for no apparent reason and without a clear distinction between speaker and listener, but with a topic, a story: ‘When Zdeněk Adamec, an 18-year-old from Humpolec in the Bohemian Highlands, burned himself on Wenceslas Square in Prague, it was a morning at the beginning of March.’ This historical event from 2003 becomes the central thread in a dense web of text containing questions and answers, suppositions and doubts, information and anecdotes. As the characters attempt to reconstruct the event in its political and historical context, a fictional psychogram emerges of the young Czech Zdeněk Adamec, whose unsettling act was intended, quite literally, as a beacon to oppose what he perceived as the unbearable condition of the world. Somebody speaks and somebody responds, causing a small (possibly international?) grouping to form. ‘Locals, newcomers, natives, foreigners, young people, old people, all with our various accents — one way or another, we contain something of the guests who arrive late or leave last.’ Their dialogical gathering of useful facts and things worth telling leads the characters, devised by the author precisely to engage in such play, to unexpectedly enter into a reflection on themselves and their own relationship to the world. Peter Handke’s voice can be clearly heard in these musically composed, polyphonic lines of speech. His text also appears as a self-mirroring of the now older man in the still young man — a poetic juxtaposition and expression of sympathy stretching across time? Zdeněk Adamec however, is also a literary search expedition for the possibility of living, based on the example of an individual who tragically ran aground.
Peter Handke, one of the most powerfully eloquent authors writing today, adopts a playful tone in his latest play that subtly switches from seriousness to flippancy, from irony to pathos. The ending suggests an acceptance of that which can’t be reconciled in the world, a carefree and peaceful fortitude, which seems to gather its strength from the act of talking to one another, from language.
One of the major authors of our time, Peter Handke has been internationally recognized with the most prestigious literary awards. In 2019 he receives the Nobel Prize in Literature for ‘an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience’. After decades of moving around and constant travelling, Peter Handke has been living in Chaville near Paris since 1990. His personal and artistic connections with Salzburg and the Festival are longstanding, with a few periods of close collaboration. In the 1980s, some of his most important works were written while he lived in the same place for an uncharacteristically long time: on the Mönchsberg in Salzburg.
Peter Handke made his debut at the Salzburg Festival in 1982 with his dramatic poem Über die Dörfer (Walk about the Villages), presented in a production by Wim Wenders. Most recently, his play Immer noch Sturm (Storm Still), which deals with the story of his family from a poetic and historical perspective, was directed by Dimiter Gotscheff in a 2011 production on the Perner-Insel in Hallein and enthusiastically acclaimed by critics and audiences.
The premiere of Zdeněk Adamec, his latest theatre text, will be staged by Friederike Heller, one of the most successful German-speaking theatre directors of her generation. She was named emerging director of the year in 2005 for her production of Peter Handke’s Untertagblues (Underground Blues) at the Burgtheater in Vienna and debuted at the Salzburg Festival as a participant of the Young Directors Project 2006 with a production of Handke’s Die Unvernünftigen sterben aus (They are Dying Out). When directing plays by Handke and other authors, she has regularly made her mark with perceptive and unconventional interpretations.
Translation: Sebastian Smallshaw