Fassbinder´s First Play

Review by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote his first play, KATZELMACHER (Cat Screwer), in 1968, when he was twenty-two. A savage, uncompromising portrait of post-war Germany with its lingering narrow-mindedness and fascism, KATZELMACHER was later turned into a film by Fassbinder. Thanks to City Garage, though, L.A. audiences have a chance to see KATZELMACHER in its raw, original form. Adapted by Denis Calandra, directed and adapted by Frederique Michael (with a big assist from production designer Charles A. Duncombe, Jr.), the play looks at the lives of a bunch of young working-class Bavarians who hang out in a dive, idly boozing, smoking, screwing and gossiping.

Some of these lumpen-proletariat are employed in a factory belonging to Elisabeth (Maureen Byrnes), a black-leather-clad businesswoman with the compassion of a cobra. Full of fear and loathing for her, the yobbos are further outraged when she hires a new "guest" worker, a young Greek called Jorgos (Steve Najarro), and rents him a room in her own home.

The fact that she is over-charging and exploiting Jorgos doesn't make the locals sympathize with his plight. On the contrary, simply because he is an outsider, a foreigner, they treat him with hatred and contempt mixed with pathological jealousy: he is sexually more virile, better endowed, daring. They begin to plot how they can punish him and won't relent from this course, not even when Marie (Kathryn Sheer) falls in love with him.

KATZELMACHER is agit-prop theatre: the characters are two-dimensional, representative, puppet-like, and Michel directs them accordingly, making them move in a highly-stylized, herky-jerk way, adding militaristic touches that let us know what good little Nazis these herrenvolk still are.

Fassbinder doesn't let Jorgos off the hook, either. Victim turns oppressor when another outsider, a Turk, shows up.

Fassbinder's view of human nature is sour, but unfortunately all too true.

City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St (alley), Santa Monica. Coming up are The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Quartet by Heiner Muller, Eden Cimena by Marguerite Duras and The Name of Oedipus: Song of the Forbidden Body by Helene Cixous. Call (310) 319-9939 or visit www.citygarage.org