The "Gas Trilogy" at the theater in Dresden: energy to system collapse

The Staatsschauspiel Dresden is rediscovering the playwright Georg Kaiser with the “Gas Trilogy”. The topic is surprisingly topical.

A man in a futuristic white suit stands screaming on the stage

Between Communism, Capitalism and Gas as a Religion: Georg Kaiser's "Gas Trilogy" Photo: Sebastian Hoppe

George Kaiser, yeah. Apparently an undiscovered young contemporary author, finally, in the playwright doldrums. Writes cool criticism of capitalism and still has visions. And so up to date! Gas as a myth and a weapon must always flow, otherwise everyone is unhappy.

Mistake. Yes, Georg Kaiser must be rediscovered. In this respect, a Göttingen performance of the gas trilogy in 2015 and now the Dresden version were pioneering acts. But the author began work already in the last two years of the First World War. At the time, the loner was considered the most played and most versatile playwright in Germany, and he wrote obsessively.

The Nazi ban on performances in 1933 and his death shortly after the end of the war may have contributed to his being forgotten. Born in Magdeburg in 1878, Kaiser grew up not only in class struggles, but also in reform efforts that wanted to mitigate radical capitalism. In the Dresden production, however, the expressionistic verbal fire of that time only really comes into play towards the end.

The trilogy was actually supposed to have a preview at the Bitterfeld Summer Festival “OSTEN”. However, the project failed due to unclear funding conditions. The Dresden audience was all the more receptive to the premiere last Saturday.

Gas as a symbol

The one you like to see in Dresden Director Sebastian Baumgarten places the audience on the main stage. Torn polygonal surfaces form a dome over the approximately 200 spectators. Video walls are used judiciously. The stage figure of the “billionaire” initially appears larger than life as a silhouette. Rubble rock lies on the dirty gray playing surface, later flowers of heavenly dreams sprout.

Then as now, gas is synonymous, even metaphorical, for the products of homo faber, the working people, produced by exploiting nature and dependent producers for the purpose of achieving material gain. But what is progress and what do we really need to live? Hasn't the pseudo-religious worship of technology turned against believers in materialism for a long time?

One is soon reminded of Brecht. When a schizophrenic “billionaire” in the gas business, who rose up out of necessity himself, oscillates between ice-cold exploiter and empathetic social romantic, the “good man from Sezuan” is an example.

A doppelganger splits off from Kaiser. The exemplary demonstration of capitalist features connects both playwrights. No wonder Brecht is said to have seen Kaiser as a mastermind of his own ideas.

The current references are booming

The extensions of the material are somewhat confusing in their complexity, which can also be due to the compressed Dresden version. But the scenes speak for themselves in their visual power. The first part resembles a quasi-communist experiment in social utopias.

However, the capitalist mode of production is not abolished, but made more effective through employee participation. In the middle part, the current references boom, without being specifically addressed. "The gas will never be missing", it sounds after the elevation of the energy world to a religion.

Faith is followed by catastrophic disillusionment. A huge explosion paralyzes the gas works. The argument about the consequences ignites in the figure of the engineer. The management, the elite, if you will, is swinging back in the direction of renaturation, while the workforce, the people, with their unbroken belief in technology, want to continue production as quickly as possible. You somehow know it from Lusatia a hundred years later.

Seven excellent players move a lot as a group, but also come up with impressive monologues. Right at the beginning, for example, when the two main laws of thermodynamics are explained. The gas loses its innocence in the warlike last part, when the engine of prosperity turns into the devastating poison gas.

Discussion of the Ukraine War

Baumgarten staged the complicated nested material effectively, but without cheap affectation. The audience appreciates it and almost all of them listen to the discussion that follows. Of course to the warbut less tied to the natural gas issue.

"Is there another principle that applies globally?" asks Saxony's Economics Minister Martin Dulig (SPD) and describes calls by his Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) for a "freeze" of the war as "naive". Philosopher Moritz Rudolph can even discover technological breakthroughs and the chance for a catharsis in any war.

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