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Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant misunderstood.

22 Apr

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Presented by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Wharf Theatre (May 1986). Reviewed by Mark Roberts. Published in Tribune No 2423, May 1986.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder’s prolific output during his brief career meant that sometimes his work was, of necessity, written rather quickly. This is particularly true of his plays and, while most of the rough edges can be ironed out during rehearsals, it helps if the director and cast are sympathetic to Fassbinder and understand the issues he returned to again and again in his work.

Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case with the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant. The play revolves around notions of personal power based on class and economic distinctions. Essential to Fassbinder’s notion of power is love, which he once said is “the most effective form of social repression”.

Petra Von Kant is a successful, divorced fashion designer. She has an assistant Marlene (Marta Kiec-Gubala). who is silent throughout the entire play. Marlene is treated with incredible coldness by Petra but, nonetheless, is essential to her success.

Petra is introduced to, and initiates a relationship with Karin (Andrea Moor) a young model who has recently returned to Germany after traveling to Australia.

At the centre of the production’s failure is the character of Petra. Director and translator. Mark Gaal, seems to have attempted to make her a reflection of Fassbinder’s own life, so there is a concentration upon her self-indulgence and self-destructiveness.

The result is that Petra seems to be distanced from the principal concerns of the play. Karin is also far too obvious. The essential points are made, but they would have been far more effective if they had been a little more subtle.

In the final instance, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is extremely frustrating. The heavy-handed nature of the direction and the over-acting of the major characters means that Fassbinder’s major concerns are pushed aside.