Wycinka Holzfällen
or Woodcutters

An intense theatrical rendition of Thomas Bernhard’s novel

By Luc Archambault

In an era where State and Art aren’t mixing well, especially in Poland, whose Right-wing catholic government has ceased to fund theatre works outside their narrow-minded views, as revealed last night by Lukasz Twakowski, director Krystian Lupa’s assistant, Thomas Bernhard’s novel, Woodcutters (Holzfällen, in German, published in 1984) is still an acute contemporary criticism of the subservient role devoted to artists leaching their way to funding and approval by higher authorities.

… an acute contemporary criticism of the subservient role devoted to artists leaching their way to funding and approval by higher authorities.

When the novel first came out, the second part of a trilogy exploring the Viennese art scene – the first part, The Loser (Der Untergeher, 1983), dealt with music, and the third, Old Masters (Alte Meister, Komödie, 1985), with painting – Bernhard was even accused by some friends, most notably the composer Gerhard Lampersberg, who recognized himself in the character of Gerhard Auersberge, a senile and pretentious self-proclaimed successor to Schönberg, the drunken host to this “artistic dinner” with his wife Maya, to which the narrator is invited.

Des arbres à abattre - Wycinka Holzfällen - Woodcutters – WestmountMag.ca

The tour de force in this adaptation is to incarnate the narrator as Thomas Bernhard himself, where the narrator in the novel isn’t identified. First billed as a satirical work, this novel soon resonated with chilling accuracy in the artistic milieu for its depiction of the artist as a supplicant, or even a parasite, of power for monetary means and in the end losing sight of his/her true vocation. Unsurprisingly, Thomas Bernhard has often been accused of being a Nestbeschumtzer (one who dirties his own nest) by his Austrian contemporaries.

… this is the genius of Bernhard – he put his finger right in the wound, right at the heart of the cesspool that lingers when Art takes a second place to politics.

This is a major play. With a length of 4 hours and 40 minutes, it will be hard on those who come from a full meal, especially the first act, in which the mood is set, with banalities flying to and fro. But after the intermission, with all hell breaking loose, time will seem to disappear, so strong is the verbal fight between the guests, as well as the denunciation of the subservient role of art in our modern society.Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caBecause this is the genius of Bernhard – he put his finger right in the wound, right at the heart of the cesspool that lingers when Art takes a second place to politics. And with this Polish version of this magnificent book, it takes one to another level altogether. The supertitles are in both French and English. This is a must see play, especially in our troubled times in which Art faces diminishing subsidies from Governments all over our Democratic countries…

Images: FTA – Festival TransAmériques

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Luc Archambault WestmountMag.ca

Luc Archambault
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.




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