Katzelmacher | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Katzelmacher, Trap Door Theatre. Growing up in postwar Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder immersed himself in the culture of the occupier. Watching a dozen Hollywood movies a week, he was symbolically rejecting German bourgeois society--he came out at age 15--but also, crucially, embracing melodrama as a means of social critique. Later an alienated filmmaker, Fassbinder began as an alienated theatrical artist akin to Brecht or Artaud, whose influences dominate Katzelmacher, his first play.

Ostensibly a grubby parable of paranoid groupthink and xenophobic scapegoating, at heart Katzelmacher (like most Fassbinder works) betrays a more fundamental misanthropy, positing misery as the basis for human interactions. Cheap foreign labor comes to town in the form of Greek immigrant Jorgos (Lyle Skosey); envied for both his relatively plum position and his stereotypic Mediterranean virility, he's eventually beaten by a gang of loutish townsfolk. In the meantime, the dynamics of need, fear, and domination ruling the characters' "romantic" alliances are laid bare.

Directors Krishna LeFan and Beata Pilch stress the play's distancing effects with an aggressive whirlwind approach; between boiled-down vignettes, the performers writhe and fuck their way across the stage to Bob Rokos's jarring sound track of chopped-up Joy Division, literalizing their characters' psychological turmoil. The cast is a match for the frenetic pace, ably conveying various shades of affectionless attraction, mirthless laughter, and empty sexual allure; especially good are Skosey, Nicole Wiesner, Mary Foran, and Ryan Palmer.

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