CULTURE

Landmark play set to premiere

A play that is both a classic and a landmark in modern theater, Georg Buchner’s «Woyzeck» opens at the capital’s Neos Cosmos Theater tomorrow, in a production directed by Vangelis Theodoropoulos and starring Tamila Koulieva, Manolis Mavromatakis and Gerasimos Gennatas. The translation is by Koralia Sotiriadou, the sets were designed by Antonis Daglidis with costumes by Claire Bracewell. The playwright Buchner was born on October 17, 1813 in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt and, prompted by his doctor father, studied zoology and comparative anatomy in Strasbourg (1831-33), where, however, he also came into contact with his first radical group. He continued his studies at the University of Giessen, where he played a leading role in underground political activity. In 1834, Buchner published an illegal pamphlet titled «Der Hessische Landbote» (The Hessian Courier), which urged peasants to revolt against their oppressors. He was denounced as the author of the pamphlet but evaded arrest due to a lack of evidence against him. In the space of five weeks in early 1835, Buchner wrote the play «Danton’s Tod» (Danton’s Death), a tragedy centered on Georges Jacques Danton, a disillusioned leader of the French Revolution. In March of the same year, Buchner, who was being pursued by the police, left for Strasbourg, where he wrote the romantic comedy «Leonce und Lena» and «Lenz,» a novel he never finished. He received a doctorate from the University of Zurich in 1836 on the strength of his dissertation «The Nervous System of the Barbel,» while the same year, he also began work on «Woyzeck,» a work that has been hailed as the first «modern» play. Buchner continued to write the play through January 1837, but he contracted typhus and died on February 19, 1837 at the age of 23 while working on the fourth draft of the play. The play «Woyzeck» is a play that greatly influenced theater in the 20th century and, though it was some 60 years after his death before any of Buchner’s plays were staged, the playwright is today considered a forerunner of both naturalism and expressionism. The play tells the story of a Slav soldier, the barber Woyzeck, who, persecuted by his Prussian superiors and forced to succumb to a string of dehumanizing acts, finally determines to take his own life and murder the wife who has betrayed him. In the prison of society and the prison in his own head, he finds that violence is the only means of escape. The play is most likely based on a real incident, as there are records of a historian and barber named Woyzeck who was a soldier and who was tried and sentenced to death for murder in 1824 in Leipzig for killing his lover. The trial’s medical evidence was well-chronicled at the time and Buchner borrowed many of the elements of the play from these, as well as other, accounts.