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When audiences can’t come to the theater, Hella Fresh Theater brings the theater to you, or at least that’s the idea behind founder John Rosenberg’s new play, Frauenschlläechterei. While some theater companies have responded to quarantine by staging productions online using YouTube, Zoom, and other streaming services, Rosenberg is using the US Postal Service to send subscribers new installments of his play every week through the mail.
What exactly does that mean? Rosenberg doesn’t go into much detail about what each installment will include online and, in keeping with that spirit, I’ll preserve some mystery. Having received the first six parts, I will say they are all different, and the first one is a letter.
The official description of the play on the company website is: “Effie, a German lawyer in Hollywood, tries to make Brigette Helm an American movie star.” Helm was the star of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, and Hella Fresh’s Effie is played by actor Effie Kammer. Originally conceived as a 10-part play, Rosenberg is now considering extending it to last as long as quarantine. The website also promises a “performance in your home” at the end, though what that means in COVID-19 times is unclear (and even if there weren’t a pandemic going on, Frauenschlläechterei has international fans, so conceivably that would make visiting every subscriber’s home a problem).
If the idea was to give audiences a theater experience devoid of screens and Wi-Fi issues, Frauenschlläechterei doesn’t completely succeed. On a basic level, part four is sent over email, so a computer or phone is necessary for that, but also, Effie’s first language is German and quite a few of the installments involve German to some degree. While you could order a German dictionary or refuse to use Google Translate on the grounds that that wouldn’t have been possible in the 1930s, it’s more likely you’re going to need (or want) a computer to figure out what’s being said.
Even with everything translated, Rosenberg doesn’t spoon-feed information to readers. The first letter ends with a quote from Metropolis, but that’s not going to register for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie. Even assuming you read the description for the play, it takes knowing Bridget Helm was a real actor to realize that quote’s significance.
Many of the installments read like poetry. While it makes sense that Effie would have trouble writing English, Rosenberg’s devotion to authenticity can make comprehending what she’s trying to say difficult. That extends to things like handwriting, too: in a world where so much is typed, you almost forget the challenges of deciphering words by hand.
It might make for a more realistic experience, but sometimes it feels like the difficulty could be reduced a little. For example, the name “Effie” is used as a nickname for “Stephanie,” and it took me awhile to realize the two names referred to one person. But Rosenberg’s play does tap into the joy that comes from receiving a letter in the mail. And when you can’t go out as often, that joy is more precious than ever.
What, When, Where
Frauenschlläechterei. Written by John Rosenberg. Hella Fresh Theater. Produced as part of the 2020 Free Fringe. Hellafreshtheater.com/frauenschllaechterei/.
Frauenschlläechterei is an ongoing experience audiences can start anytime by emailing [email protected]. Subscribers will receive weekly installments of the play through the mail. The cost is $15 using Venmo (@hellafreshtheater) or PayPal ([email protected]); international subscribers are welcome. More information at the Free Fringe website.
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