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The 1997 production, directed by Keith Fowler. Jeff Renard as Woyzeck kneels at table (left); Ryan Paregien as the Drum Major sits opposite (right).
|Written by||Georg Büchner|
|Characters||Woyzeck, Marie, Andres, Louis, Margret, Karl, Captain, Doctor, Drum Major, Apprentices, Children, People, Grandmother|
|Date premiered||premiered 1913 in Munich|
Woyzeck is a stage play written by Georg Büchner. He left the work incomplete at his death, but it has been posthumously "finished" by a variety of authors, editors and translators. Woyzeck has become one of the most performed and influential plays in the German theatre repertory.
Büchner probably began writing the play between June and September 1836. It remained in a fragmentary state at the time of his early death in 1837. Woyzeck was first published in 1879 in a heavily reworked version by Karl Emil Franzos. It was not performed until November 8, 1913 at the Residenztheater, Munich, where it was produced by Max Reinhardt.
Woyzeck deals with the dehumanising effects of doctors and the military on a young man's life. It is often seen as 'working class' tragedy, though it can also be viewed as having another dimension, portraying the 'perennial tragedy of human jealousy'. The play was admired both by the German naturalist Gerhart Hauptmann and, subsequently, by expressionist playwrights. It is loosely based on the true story of Johann Christian Woyzeck, a Leipzig wigmaker who later became a soldier. In 1821, Woyzeck, in a fit of jealousy, murdered Christiane Woost, a widow with whom he had been living. He was later publicly beheaded.
In editions based on the Franzos version and at its first stage performances, the play and the title character bore the name "Wozzeck": an indication of the near-illegibility of the manuscripts with which Franzos worked. Not only did he have to cope with Büchner's "microscopically small" handwriting, but the pages had faded so badly that they had to be chemically treated to make the text decipherable at all. Franzos was unaware of the real-life basis of the drama, which was first generally disseminated through the appearance in 1921 of a new edition based on the manuscript by Georg Witkowski, which introduced the corrected title Woyzeck.
Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is living with Marie, the mother of his child which is not blessed by the church as it was born out of wedlock. Woyzeck earns extra money for his family by performing menial jobs for the Captain and agreeing to take part in medical experiments conducted by the Doctor. At one of these experiments, the Doctor tells Woyzeck that he must eat nothing but peas. It is obvious that Woyzeck's mental health is breaking down and he begins to experience a series of apocalyptic visions. Meanwhile, Marie grows tired of Woyzeck and turns her attentions to a handsome drum major who, in an ambiguous scene taking place in Marie's bedroom, sleeps with her.
With his jealous suspicions growing, Woyzeck confronts the drum major, who beats him up and humiliates him. Finally, Woyzeck stabs Marie to death by a pond. While a third act trial is claimed by some, notably A. H. J. Knight and Fritz Bergemann, to have been part of the original conception (what may be the beginning of a courtroom scene survives), the fragment, as left by Büchner, ends with Woyzeck disposing of the knife in the pond and while trying to clean himself of the blood after having dumped the knife in deep waters. Here Franzos inserted the stage direction "ertrinkt" (he drowns), and although this emendation according to Knight "almost amounts to a forgery," most versions employ drowning as an appropriate resolution to the story. 
Woyzeck is a comment on social conditions as well as an exploration of complex themes such as poverty. Woyzeck is considered as morally lacking by other characters of higher status, such as the Captain, particularly in the scene in which Woyzeck shaves the Captain. The Captain links wealth and status with morality suggesting Woyzeck cannot have morals as he is poor. It is the exploitation of the character Woyzeck by the Doctor and the Captain which ultimately pushes him over the edge.
The many adaptations of Woyzeck include:
- an opera by Alban Berg (Wozzeck), completed 1922, premiered in Berlin in December 1925.
- an opera by Manfred Gurlitt, premiered in Bremen in April 1926.
- a 1966 TV movie directed by Rudolf Noelte.
- a 1969 stage adaptation at Dramaten in Stockholm directed by Ingmar Bergman starring Thommy Berggren. The translation Ingmar Bergman used was by Per Erik Wahlund, and in 1970 the translation was published by Sällskapet Bokvännerna, in Stockholm, with 24 woodcuts by the Swedish artist Torsten Billman.
- a 1972 movie by Dariush Mehrjui, (Postman, Persian: پستچی )
- a 1979 movie by Werner Herzog (Woyzeck)
- a 1990 stage adaptation at Hartford Stage directed by Richard Foreman starring David Patrick Kelly
- a 1994 movie by János Szász
- a 1997 stage version by Keith Fowler. Fowler prepared his own translation for the Woyzeck he directed at the University of California, Irvine. In considering the traditional arrangements of scenes — whether to start with the scene in which Woyzeck is shaving his captain, the doctor’s lecture, or when Woyzeck is in the woods and hears voices below the ground; and whether to end with Woyzeck’s trial or his drowning — Fowler notes how each arrangement makes a different thematic statement, viz.:
- Start: Shaving / End: Trial / Statement: Oppression of the lower classes by these in power.
- Start: Woods / End: Drowning / Statement: Deranged Woyzeck destroys himself.
- Start: Lecture / End: Drowning / Statement: Society disregards Woyzeck’s humanity, eventually discards him.
- Start: Lecture / End: Trial / Statement: ...or judges him.
- But, as Fowler also comments, what truly counts is "the totality of Büchner's world, for however the scenes are arranged, we will still have what G. Wilson Knight calls the ‘burning core’ of the drama….”
- a fast paced play titled W – Workers' Circus of Árpád Schilling's Krétakör incorporating poetry by Attila József
- A November 2002 Cape Cod Community College production, adapted and directed by Victor Warren
- a 2010 movie by Francis Annan, the first English-language feature-length movie adaptation. This was filmed at, and used students from, Xaverian College.
- a musical conceived by Robert Wilson, with lyrics and music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan; the songs from which are on Waits's Blood Money album
- Tom Waits has a song on his album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, entitled "Children's Story", which is based on Woyzeck
- a modernized play, Re: Woyzeck by Jeremy Gable (in which Georg Büchner becomes a character in his own play)
- the play Skin by Naomi Iizuka
- production of the play by Vesturport, an Iceland-based theatre company, directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson.
- a puppet theater version, Woyzeck on the Highveld by South African based Handspring Puppet Company, directed by William Kentridge
- a play by Splendid Productions which performs the scenes as they were found, rather than chronologically
- A play in 2009 at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, Australia. Director Michael Kantor with Music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
- Production of the play by Toto Funds the Arts and Rafiki; adapted and directed by Anmol Vellani (India)
- Mailman (Postchi, 1971), a film by the Iranian new wave master Dariush Mehrjui.
- a 2007 production at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, Woyzeck was re-worked by Director Dan Rigazzi to take place in 1951 and reflect themes of racial pressure in the army. Also, with the help of the Carnegie Mellon University German Language Department, pieces of the original Clarus Report were translated to English and incorporated in the text and structure of the production.
- Ballet production named Leonce et Lena inspired of Woyzeck by Christian Spuck (World Premiere: Aalto Ballett Theater Essen, April 27, 2008)
- a modernized version of woyzeck played by the Belgian theatregroup,'NTGent' and 'Toneelgroep Ceremonia' in fall 2010. The director, Eric De Volder died the night after the première.
- A 2011 play by three Portuguese young actors, António Mortágua, Catarina Rosa and Vera Barreto; Woyzeck, from Georg Büchner. The text was followed precisely through a scenic arrangement where the audience is facing a door, Woyzeck "António Mortágua" is sitting in a sofa with his back to the door and the other two actors play from the street. It was played in a small theater room in Lisbon, from March 30 to April 17 with very intimate small audience sessions of ten people at a time.
- After a successful black box production, it was accepted to perform at the Philadelphia Fringe festival in late August to early September in 2011. The adaptation was performed by students from Muhlenberg College. Directed by Zach Trebino, an alumn from Muhlenberg.
- A new musical theatre adaptation by Christopher Carter Sanderson titled "Woyzeck Musical Deathmetal" was supported by a Fulbright grant in early 2011 at Norway's EFTN. The adaptation was produced at KRT in workshop form, November 2011 for three performances, with lighting design by Ryan Hauenstein, costumes, Mary Anne Davis, and with Max Schneller in the role of Woyzeck. The adaptation in this format was performed at the Times Square International Theater Festival, in January 2012.
- A Hindi adaptation entitled 'Waseem', written and directed by Sharmistha Saha, Research Scholar at the Free University of Berlin, was performed by the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Drama Club and Wings Cultural Society on January 21 and 22, 2012 at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi.
- A modern adaptation (simply entitled "Woyzeck") was directed by Michael Hunt at The University of Virginia's College at Wise in late 2011. The cast alternated the order of the scenes each night, allowing the audience members to choose the order based on scene numbers and a one line summary of the scene.
- A 2012 re-translation by Nicolas Babson and directed by Ben Roberts took place at The Headwaters Theatre in Portland, Oregon.
- A modern adaptation entitled "Woyzceck" was performed at the University of Wollongong by second year acting students. Directed by Christopher Ryan, it incorporated quotes and influences from modern artists such as Heiner Müller and Tom Waits
- A free adaptation (simply entitled "Woyzeck") by playwright Neil LaBute premiered at the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts and Cinema on November 1, 2012 and ran through November 11, 2012. The adaptation was directed by 3-time OBIE winner Bob McGrath.
- A run at the New Diorama Theatre, London in October 2012 of "The Woyzeck", a new adaptation and translation by Sebastian Rex, produced by Rex's company Acting Like Mad. Theatrical Niche Ltd and Acting Like Mad have co-produced a subsequent Regional and Greater London Tour of "The Woyzeck" in early Spring 2013. A text version is available from PlayDead Press – The Woyzeck / Spare, translation and adaptation by Sebastian Rex (PlayDead Press, 2012)
- the Wilson, Waits and Brennan musical version of Woyzeck, performed by the Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley, California, in January 2013.
- Punchdrunk's 2013 production entitled 'The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable' is based on Woyzeck, but transports the play into a 1960s film studio. The production ran from 20 June 2013 – 6 July 2014.
- A 2014 adaptation by Dylan Gamblin performed by Ghostlight Theater Company of New England in collaboration with die Karneval von Wahnsinn.
- A 2014 adaption entitled "Master of the Universe" produced by The Living Room Theatre in Kansas City Missouri. Written and directed by Kyle Hatley.
- an award-winning short film named "Woyzeck - The Film" uses the original dialogue only. The experimental adaption was directed by Minona von Vietinghoff in 2012.
- Wendell, a contemporary riff on Woyzeck. Set in modern day suburbia, Wendell re-imagines Woyzeck through the perspective of Woyzeck and Marie's child, now a teenager. This play is adapted by John Moletress and was first performed at McDaniel College. http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/local/ph-cc-wendell-20150414,0,7255954.story
- Atramental Theatre are developing a new adaptation of Woyzeck which is due to premier in May 2015 at the Platform Theatre, in Kings Cross, London. Titled 'The Woyzeck Theory,' it has been adapted by Artistic Director of the company, Rory Devlin, with production design by Mille Fischer Christensen. Based on the original story of Woyzeck, the new text examines humanity in detail while paying homage to Brecht’s learning plays with the use of song and dramatic text. https://www.platform-theatre.com/
The title character in Benjamin Hale's novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a chimpanzee, stages the play at the research center to which he is confined.
- Michael Patterson, introduction to 'Georg Büchner, The Complete Plays', London, 1987
- Michael Patterson, op.cit.
- George Perle The Operas of Alban Berg: Volume I/Wozzeck, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980, pp. 25-31.
- Farsi Wikipedia
- Knight, G. Wilson, Principles of Shakespearean Production, Faber and Faber, London, 1936, cited in Fowler Keith, Woyzeck: a Director’s Play, https://eee.uci.edu/13f/03260
- Kenney, Diana (November 2, 2002). "'Woyzeck' poses a dark challenge". Cape Cod Times.
- Times Square International Theater Festival
- Wings Cultural Society
- University of Wollongong announcement[dead link]
- Shotgun Players announcement[dead link]
- Living Room’s ‘Master of the Universe’ fills stage with light and sound
- New English translation of Woyzeck
- Study guide covering German Naturalism and analysis of Woyzeck
- Woyzeck at Project Gutenberg (German)