Sartre's "Dirty Hands," at Berliner Ensemble

Opened Jan. 26 in Berlin, Germany

By: - Jan 29, 2024

Opening night of Jean-Paul Sartre's "Die Schmutzigen Hände" (Dirty Hands) on January 26th 2024 at the famed Berliner Ensemble in Berlin, Germany was sold out. Nobody expected anything else since Brecht's theatre is world renowned and so is Sartre.

When the work of the French playwright and philosopher opened in the Sixties in France, it caused strong criticism, especially from the French Communist Party.

Actually, it is a theatrical investigation into the justification of using murder in reaching a political goal, however necessary it may be. The idealistic Hugo (Paul Zichner) is ordered to kill Hoederer (Marc Oliver Schulze) the moderate leader of the Party of the proletariat. He and his wife Jessica (Lili Epply) befriend Hoederer and consequently Hugo is not capable of betraying his new friend, until he sees his wife and Hoederer kissing. Outraged and for the wrong reasons he kills both. He is lauded for the deed but cannot live with his "false heroism" and kills himself.

The play is fabulously staged by Olaf Altmann on a dark gray space with a rotating latter cage. The action plays out in front of this stage consuming cage, the actors are in constant motion surrounding the un-surmountable fence until it noisily collapses at the end.

Thus the director Mateja Koleždoes does her best, with the help of Altmann's stage settings, to enliven the action. Zichner is quite amazing as Hugo torn between party loyalty and human compassion, but the rest of the ensemble succumbs to Sartre's philosophical wordiness. A polite applause at the end underscores the attempt of rekindling a debate of right and wrong in political affairs.

The play raises the correct questions at the present social uproar in German politics (strikes by farmers and train conductors). The Berliner Ensemble could not have been more timely than with this opening. Bertolt Brecht, the founder of the theatre, would have been pleased.