Friday, June 19, 2015


You are invited to participate in a discusion of ARANJUEZ . Use the comment function of this blog. 

Handke's THE BEAUTIFUL DAYS OF ARANJUEZ premiered in Chicago this week.
and has received two interesting review so far, (1) by Tony Adler of the Chicago Reader.



Poetry has the incredible ability to use the aesthetics and rhythms of words to invoke a meaning far greater than the face value of a phrase. This ability to elevate a simple message is what makes watching spoken word poetry (and, really, any kind of spoken performance) so wonderful when done well. It becomes the job of the performer(s) and creative team to take the already heightened text and enhance its effect. Unfortunately, with Theatre Y’s production of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez—a US/English premiere of a Peter Handke play—the team toed the line between aiding the text and hindering it, ultimately falling on the wrong side....

The translation and language of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez are beautiful. While this is intentionally not a drama and it’s supposed to be a summer dialogue, relaxing and easy, that ease toes a dangerous line between laid-back and uninteresting. It quickly becomes too easy to zone out while they wax poetic at each other while seemingly looking to gain little if anything at all. With a lack of solid goals and an ebb and flow to the story that was devoid of forward momentum, any hope for a plot to follow is lost until you are blindsided by a surprisingly beautiful ending.


Adler is first rate on the performance:

"A 2012 summer dialogue" by that formidable Austrian Peter Handke, Aranjuez is as heavy in its way as any of the company's previous efforts—and very, very European. It carries the weight extremely well, though, under the direction of Zeljko Djukic, best known locally as the founder of TUTA Theatre Chicago. Djukic's nearly perfect directorial touch. His approach is light and playful, sure, but more: It actually fulfills that ideal you hear tell so much about, of creating a world. Defined in no small part by Natasha Vuchurovich Dukich's costume and set designs, the atmosphere is so richly allusive you could go for a swim in it. We're on the lake where The Seagull takes place, at the Tuscan summerhouse from Stealing Beauty, witnessing an idyll from a Truffaut film (before all hell breaks loose). A bit involving an old parlor game takes on marvelous resonances.​​"
Handke's opening of this
mytho-poeic text --
And it’s summer again. And it’s another beautiful summer day. And once again the woman and the man sit at a table out in the open, under the sky. A garden. A terrace. Invisible yet audible trees, more as premonition than as presence amidst a shallow summer breeze whose fluttering pulse at times imposes its rhythm on the scene. The table is garden variety, on the large side. The man and the woman sit facing each other, at a certain distance, dressed unobtrusively, the woman on the bright side, the man darker, timeless the one as the other. The figures are timeless as well outside whatever actual time it is and whatever historical or social context; in that respect, the figures, too, exist more as premonitions than as presence. At the outset the woman as well as the man - no eyes for each other yet - hearken the rustling of invisible leaves under the sky, under a sky which one imagines as wide, as gentle as it is soothing, and do so for a long while.”
--thus could not be better served by Zelko Ducik & the principals of Theater Y.

Adler, in some respects, is hip to the kind of deep tic-tac-toe that is being played; in others I find him evasively superficial and/or plain wrong. Other comments are worth dwelling on at some length.

"The premise is disarmingly simple [1]. A Man and a Woman (youngish, but not too young) loll in a garden on yet "another beautiful summer day." She wears a long, white, breezy cotton gown of the type one can simply throw over one's head to be dressed. Or undressed. He affects a beat-up, short-brimmed Panama hat. He mostly sits at a rough grayed-wood picnic table, slicing up biblical apples. She mostly orbits him. They've just started playing a game in which he asks prying questions that she's obliged to answer. He opens, of course [2], with, "The first time, you and a man, how did it go?" But her answer isn't similarly dopey; in fact, it reminded me of Walt Whitman's account of making love to his own soul, in "Song of Myself." "I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning," Whitman wrote. "How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me. . . " And so it goes. Stimulus and unexpected response, eroticism that's powerfully present yet displaced, thickly, into language—into games, stories, philosophy, poetry, and sometimes into despair.  These discourses have a stilted air [3] to them in the new English translation by Michael Roloff and Scott Abbott. Maybe that's appropriate[3]. After all, Handke's given us characters who dream about the Pleiades, rhapsodize on the properties of a robin, and reference authors from Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill to Ödön von Horváth. Then too, there's something of the old man's valediction[4] about Aranjuez, both for better and for worse. Handke was 70 when the play premiered in German, and despite all the fascinating summing up it does, it can also settle into intellectual complacency[5]. The Woman, in particular, spouts retrograde foolishness at times, constructed out of tired old shards of the male gaze.[6]"

Thus, Adler provides occasion to open a discussion about the kind of play that ARANJUEZ is & is in Amerika
and in the precincts of Sexual Perversity.
Some initial comments were put on line a few weeks ago & I kept adding to them as the premiere approached.


The Chicago performance may be the English premiere; however, the 1972 ARANJUEZ has had several German productions & French & Spanish and Portuguese premieres - that is, it has a bit of a quick past. Here the links to receptions of these productions.

Peter Handke's 'The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez' Receives Standing Ovation at the Lisbon-Estoril Film Festival

Moreover ARANJUEZ is discussed in extenso in Oberender's four part conversation with Peter Handke

The most interesting matters that Handke says about the play I think are the following. He calls the play
a sketch,” and is rather liberal in making allowances to its directors; secondly, he emphasizes that it is his wish that the play be done in such a way as to direct attention to what the performers SPEAK, that is to the language & and that the physical action on stage do as little as possible to detract from that; a wish
he reiterates on the occasion of its performance in Portugal (see above Escorial link.) Thirdly, he mentions that at one point he hoped to end the play at Aranjuez market place at closing time! Instead we have a denouement that in some ways resembles, in minuendo, that of the 1983 WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES. The more direct expression of tristesse implied by the once impulse is absent. Oberender fails to follow up on Handke's comment.

Adller intimates that he knows Handke's work, I see no sign that he has ever reviewed any other Handke play & he makes no mention of any of them, most but not entirely all of which exist in English​
Chicago has been good to Handke
as have few other American cities
although Seattle once upon a long ago:

Thus a prolegnomena about the kind of playwright Handke is & is, en especial, in ARANJUEZ, what kind of beast machine ARANJUEZ is, would seem in order.

As of the mid-eighties (after having translated all his early work up to and including his richest play, if not his altogether richest work,
the first great of the mytho-poeic texts
I had time to give some thought to what kind of playwright Handke is
and once the noggin had churned a bit
I concluded that it was more fruitful
to approach Handke's stage work as
- that is as a specie of a very special
that become manifests itself
as soon as a space turns theatrical,
that is as
But I suggest that on this score you look at what the formidable Handke specialist KLAUS KASTBERGER has to say:

It is the experience that a reviewer needs describe
rather than approach these texts with
inappropriate theatrical categories.
Without recapitulating my thinking @

and as it is strewn throughout, in more and less complete comments, on the various plays @
let me be conclusionarily apodictic {adjective: incontestable because of having been demonstrated or proved to be demonstrable.
Logic. (of a proposition) necessarily true or logically certain.}
The experience of each of Handke's theater pieces changes the spectator/ auditor's state of mind
and each play does so in its own way which means that the reviewer, in each instance, needs to work ab novo.

Thus, Handke does not repeat himself
although in the two instances of the 1969 THE RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE
& the 1991
THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER - the experience of two extremely different scores is similarly cathartic -
(we are talking Brecht's non-Aristotelian
catharses*: no blood, no tragic hero)
yet the mental discharge of tension & resources made available for thinking, good riddances, are achieved by seemingly very different means:
In the instance of LAKE CONSTANCE via linguistic querying and grammatical acrobatics
in the case of HOUR by means of the succession of seemingly infinite series of images that ultimately re-fabulate the world = not knowing as a new start, as innocence reborn. I am uncertain whether those great Greel playwright ever achieved anything along those lines.
I put experiences that other Handke's happenings produce into a NOTE @ the end.

Now on to an attempt to describe the ARANJUEZ machine & the effects it produces (ARANJUEZ was preceded by the great prize-winnig STILL STORM & succeeded by

and thus is starecely a “valedictory” (Adler) to Handke's playwrighting.
ARANJUEZ itself, according to Handke, grew out of a brainstorm of his while writing
a fantastic piece of writing imbued with sexuality, say, as the work of the British lyrical novelist Henry Green
(forthcoming from Seagull Press).

ARANJUEZ starts of a an interrogatory tic-tac-toe and keep taking recourse to this method although not in a predictable manner. (A note to Adler's of course [2]:
ethe game could be easily reversed, or become mutual, if that was what Handke was up to.
The second major driving force is indeed Whitman's “the cradle forever rocking”
and experiencig ARANJUEZ
ensures the audience's participation in an hour long mating
ritual, that is what is going on between the two actors: this is one of the great pieces of pornography, it turns you on it makes you hot, and of course not the way customary pornography does.
If you and your date don't want to screw after this aphrodisiac... it's time to be friends!
As you look back on the experience...
The game that is being played may have started simply but complications ensue
on every level.

Thus Adler has a point when he finds that ARANJUEZ is the work of someone with a body of experience. Whether it is a
“valedictory” to Handke's sybaritic sexuality I would not venture a guess, Handke's grandfather Sivec was known to reach under the skirt of the milkmaids well inti his 90s!
For every woman with such a rich yet ultimately unsatisfied erotic history
there is a man's -
how easily the table could be turned,
I could re-assign the roles:
however, one thing for sure:
    this is a truly heterosexual play no matter the author's bi-sexual conflicts & his ability to write from a woman's experience in books such as THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN & CROSSING THE SIERRA DEL GREDOS (and his saying about SORROW BEYOND DREAMS “ma mere c'est moi.”)
  • ARANJUEZ i a truly amusingly pornographic product, what else would you expect from this forever also linguistically GEIL now aging whore-master and exhibitionist! Perhaps that is what Tony Adler refers to with what he terms “shards of the male gaze”? I ask him to be more specific and and do a bit of citing. After all, he shows nice differentials in describing the performance. The text has some longeurs and if one wants to perform it to its own advantage (in service to the author's wish that as little as possible distract from its language) some cuts would seem useful.

As works of literary art,
Handke's plays obey certain formal rules, no matter that someone writing in the Austrian tradition is also a rule breaker.
These are independent formal creations.
These texts don't mimic, don't duplicate, don't evoke other worlds but, as independent creations, produce
particular states of mind.
The language, thus, that Scott and I devised - me in the lead and finalizing and taking ultimate responsibility -
sought first to breathe rhythmically the way the original text does -
that is the initial response.
Then the realization sets in that you are recreating a linguistically artificial {an artificer's artifice} text in another language, sculpting, kneading digging it out of the other language, sometimes working crazily as an animal will for truffles, and then introducing your own kind of playfulness, i.e. a bit of Spanish spice if not Spanish fly, urged on by Handke's Flores Flores par los muertos.”
What you, WE ended up is not the language at you neighborhood bar, but I asked the director and actors to smooth out anything that stuck awkwardly in their craws.
It is a text that acknowledges its own artificiality. It has touches of the formal that heark back to its origins in Schiller's DON CARLOS:
1. Akt, 1.Auftritt: ​ACT I, SCENE I

Domingo (a priest):
​”The beautiful sojourn in Aranjuez has now come to an end. Your Royal Highness are not leaving it any happier. Our having been here has been futile. Por favor, my Prince, break your puzzling silence, open you heart to your father's heart. His son's - his only son's - silence is beginning to exact too dear a price from my Monarch.

Carlos looks to the ground
and remains silent.

Perhaps that is what Adler means by stilted. Again, I ask him to be citational.

  • Brechtian catharses always struck me a dependent on the exquisite aesthetic experience of his dramaturgy, and not inherent in the texts, though Mutter Kurasch pathos approximates the effect of Greek tragedy)
  • ===========

The experiences that Handkes plays elicit range from
The extraordinary self-consciousness induced by experiencing OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE.
the linguistic pain of KASPAR
To {C}
the auditory hallucinatory projection screen of QUODLIBET
TO {d}
the above-described LAKE CONSTANCE
the variety of mytho=poeic texts
(a text without words!)
to the 1993 VOYAGE BY DUGOUT
(the play about the film about the war)
that shows how Handke has absorbed the lessons of his immediate predecessors Brecht, HorVarth and of his contemporaries Kipphard, Weiss, Grass.
To the play that immediately precedes
the great STILL STORM

Michael Roloff, June 2015,
the city named after Chief Sealth.

1 comment:

  1. I would agree that Mr. Adler is deficient in his description & understanding of the play.


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