Whe attended a German grammar school in the last three decades of the 20th century could not ignore him: Walter Faber, the engineer from Switzerland, who, out of sheer rationality and strictly controlled emotional life, does not notice the misfortune he is causing all around him and also only recognizes the tragedy of his own life when it is too late. Max Frisch’s novel from 1957 shares the fate of many compulsory readings: almost everyone has read it at some point, one vaguely remembers that most of this outwardly successful, but inwardly almost completely screwed up life of a man of around fifty remained quite alien and one also found the many coincidences in the novel unbelievable.
Of course, the stage version by Jakob Weiss, which has now premiered at the Staatstheater Darmstadt, does not make the external plot any more plausible. It is only just understandable that Faber, who is flying from New York to Central America on behalf of UNESCO, meets the brother of his childhood friend Joachim on the plane and spontaneously sets out with him to look for his tobacco plantation. But it is hard to believe that Joachim had taken his own life shortly before and that Walter Faber only then began to remember the events in Germany in the late 1930s. Especially since Joachim then married that Hanna (Karin Klein) and fled to Mexico with her in time before the war, who was Faber’s great love, but who, in view of his lukewarm reaction to her pregnancy, separated from him.
With inexorable consequences
On the voyage from New York to Europe, Faber meets a young woman who is identical to Hanna. That this Sabeth (Edda Wiersch) could be his daughter doesn’t occur to Faber when he begins a relationship with her. Whether he is to blame for her accidental death or whether it is all just a chain of tragic circumstances no longer plays any role, because the accumulation of external catastrophes in Frisch only serves to confront the human Faber with himself and him with himself to reconcile yourself.
What at times seems somewhat schematic in the novel becomes in Jakob Weiss’ Darmstadt production an extraordinarily dense one, with inexorable consistency in the sad end point, which nonetheless brings something like salvation, a man’s journey to himself. Mathias Znidarec shows Faber as a man, who only has false images of himself in his head. When he talks about the blessings of technology, he is quite himself, but he has no idea of anything that has to do with his feelings for the deceased Joachim, for Hanna, and finally also for the young Sabeth.
But his body, as Znidarec impressively demonstrates for ninety minutes, is always smarter than his seemingly sensible head. Even while Faber is blustering about the joys of living alone and his problems with women, one suspects that he is about to make a hasty marriage proposal to Sabeth.
Far from all naturalism, Jakob Weiss, who is also responsible for the sober revolving stage consisting of just a few sloping concrete slabs, has turned the novel into a timeless drama of the soul. Again and again there are dreamlike sequences, and Weiss even designed the scenes with Sabeth and the reunion with Hanna after Sabeth’s death in such a way that everything could only be the dreamlike memories of a dying man who realizes too late that he missed life.
Homo Faber Next performance on September 24th at 7.30 p.m. in the Kammerspiele of the Staatstheater Darmstadt, Georg-Büchner-Platz 1.