Kroetz, Franz Xaver 1946-
KROETZ, Franz Xaver 1946-
PERSONAL: Born February 25, 1946, in Munich, Germany; son of a treasury official; children: one daughter, one son. Education: Attended drama school in Munich, West Germany, 1961-63, and Max-Reinhardt Seminar, Vienna, Austria, 1964-66.
ADDRESSES: Home—Keyserlingstrasse 10, 8000 Munich 60, Germany.
CAREER: Playwright, author, and actor. Worked variously as laborer, truck driver, gardener, nurse, and banana cutter in Paderborn and Munich, Germany, 1966-67. Büchner-Theater, Munich, Germany, theatrical job, 1965; Ludwig-Thoma Bühne, Rottach-Egern, director, 1969; Franz-Xaver Kroetz Dramatik publishing house, cofounder, 1975; DKP candidate for Bundestag elections, 1976-80; Kir Royal television series, actor, 1988; Die Welt, reported on the Seoul Olympic Games, 1987. Has directed many productions of his own plays for stage, television, and radio.
MEMBER: Society of German Authors, 1972-83; PEN Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Suhrkamp-Dramatikerstipendium, 1970; Ludwig-Thoma Medal from City of Munich, 1970; Fontane Prize from Berlin Academy of Arts, 1972; German Critics Prize for Literature from German Critics Association, 1973; Hanover Drama Prize, 1974; Wilhelmine Lüebke Prize, 1975; Dramatikerpreis from the City of Muehlheim am Main, West Germany, 1976; Adolf-Grimme Prize, 1987; Brecht Prize, 1995.
Weitere Aussichten: ein Lesebuch (articles and scripts; title means "Wider Prospects"; includes "Die Wahl fuers Leben," "Das Nest," "Reise ins Glück," "Agnes Bernauer," and "Weitere Aussichten"), edited by Thomas Thieringer, Kiepenheuer & Witsch (Cologne, West Germany), 1976 (also see below), published as Ein Lesebuch: Stücke, Polemik, Gespräche, Filme, Hörspiele, Analysen, Rowohlt Taschenbuch, 1982.
Chiemgauer Geschichten: Bayerische Menschen erzählen… (biography), Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1977.
Der Mondscheinknecht (novel), Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, West Germany), 1981.
Der Mondscheinknecht: Fortsetzung (novel; sequel to Der Mondscheinknecht), Suhrkamp, 1983.
Fruehe Prosa, fruehe Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1983.
Nicaragua Tagebuch (novel), Konkret (Hamburg, West Germany), 1985.
Bauern sterben: Materialien zum Stück, Rowohlt Taschenbuch (Hamburg, West Germany), 1985.
Bauerntheater, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1991.
Brazilian-Peru-Aufzeichnungen, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, Germany), 1991.
Heimat Welt: Gedichte eines Lebendigen, Rotbuch (Hamburg, Germany), 1996.
Heimarbeit (title means "Domestic Labor"; first produced in Munich, West Germany, 1971; translation produced as Homeworker in London, England, 1974), published in Heimarbeit, Hartnäckig, Mannersache: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1971.
Hartnäckig (title means "Stubborn"; first produced in Munich, 1971), published in Heimarbeit, Hartnäckig, Mannersache: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp (Frankfurt am Main, West Germany), 1971.
(Under name Franz Kroetz) Michis Blut (first produced in Munich, 1971; translation produced as Michi's Blood in New Haven, CT, 1975; produced in New York City at Taller Latinoamericano, 1982), Suhrkamp, 1971.
Mannersache (title means "Men's Business"; first produced in Darmstadt, West Germany, 1972; revised version produced as Ein Mann, ein Wörterbuch [title means "A Man, a Dictionary"], produced in Austria, 1977; produced as Wer durchs Laub geht… in Marburg, West Germany, 1981; translation produced as Through the Leaves, in Los Angeles, CA, 1983; produced in New York City at Interart, 1984), original version published in Heimarbeit, Hartnäckig, Mannersache: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1971, translation by Roger Downey from Wer durchs Laub geht… published as Through the Leaves, Theatre Communications Group, 1983.
Stallerhof: Stück in drei Akten (three-act; title means "Staller's Farm"; first produced in Hamburg 1972; translation produced as Stallerhof in London, 1974), Suhrkamp, 1971.
Wunschkonzert (first produced in Stuttgart, West Germany, 1973; translation produced as Request Programme in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1974; produced as Request Concert in New York City at Interart, 1981), published in Vier Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1972.
Geisterbahn (title means "Horror Show"; first produced in Vienna, 1975; produced in London, 1975), published in Vier Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1972.
Lieber Fritz (title means "Dear Fritz"; first produced in Darmstadt, 1975), published in Vier Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1972.
Wildwechsel (title means "Deer Crossing"; first produced in Dortmund, West Germany, 1971), Lentz (Wollerau, West Germany), 1973.
Dolomitenstadt Lienz (first produced in Bochum, West Germany, 1972), Suhrkamp, 1974.
Oberoesterreich (title means "Upper Austria"; first produced in Heidelberg, West Germany, 1972; translation produced as Morecambe in London, 1975), Suhrkamp, 1974.
Münchner Kindl (title means "Munich Lass"; first produced in Munich, 1973), Suhrkamp, 1974.
Maria Magdalena (adaptation of play by Friedrich Hebbel; first produced in Heidelberg, 1973), Suhrkamp, 1974.
Die Wahl fuers Leben (broadcast on radio, 1973; produced in Munich, 1980), published in Weitere Aussichten: Ein Lesebuch, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1976.
Weitere Aussichten (title means "Wider Prospects"; broadcast on television, 1974; produced in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany, 1975), published in Weitere Aussichten: Ein Lesebuch, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1976.
Das Nest (first produced in Munich, 1975; translation produced as The Nest in London at Bush Theatre, 1986; produced in New York at Perry Street Theater, 1989), published in Weitere Aussichten: Ein Lesebuch, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1976.
Reise ins Glück (produced in Zurich, Switzerland, 1976), published in Weitere Aussichten: Ein Lesebuch, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1976.
Agnes Bernauer (adaptation of play by Friedrich Hebbel; first produced in Leipzig, East Germany, 1977), published in Weitere Aussichten: Ein Lesebuch, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1976.
Mensch Meier (two-act; title means "Man Meier"; first produced in Duesseldorf, West Germany, 1978; produced in Seattle, WA, at Empty Space, 1982; produced Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club, 1984), published in Mensch Meier, Der Stramme Max, Wer durchs Laub geht…: Drei neue Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1979, translation by Roger Downey published as Mensch Meier: A Play of Everyday Life, Theatre Communications Group, 1983.
Der stramme Max (first produced in Recklinghausen, West Germany, 1980), published in Mensch Meier, Der Stramme Max, Wer durchs Laub geht…, Suhrkamp, 1979.
Nicht Fisch nicht Fleisch (title means "Neither Fish nor Fowl"; first produced in Düsseldorf, 1981), published in Nicht Fisch, nicht Fleisch; Verfassungsfeinde; Jumbo-Track: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1981.
Furcht und Hoffnung der BRD: Das Stück, das Material, das Tagebuch (cycle of fifteen scenes; title means "Fear and Hope of the Federal Republic of Germany"; includes "Schritte," "Gespräch," "Der Weihnachtstod," "Zerreissprobe," and "Verschnaufpause"; first produced, 1984), Suhrkamp, 1984.
Through the Leaves and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1992.
Der Drang; Ich bin das Volk; Bauerntheater, Rotbuch-Verlag (Hamburg, Germany), 1996.
Heimat Welt: Gedichte eines Lebedigen, Rotbuch-Verlag (Hamburg, Germany), 1996.
Woyzeck: Die Kroetz'sche Fassung, Rotbuch-Verlag (Hamburg, Germany), 1996.
Oblomov (adaptation of Ivan Goncharov's novel of the same title), first produced, 1968.
Globales Interesse (title means "Global Interest"), first produced in Munich, 1972.
Herzliche Gruesse aus Grado, broadcast on television, 1972; produced in Duesseldorf, 1976.
Inklusive (radio play), broadcast 1972.
Bilanz (radio play), broadcast 1972.
Gute Besserung (radio play), broadcast 1972.
Der Mensch Adam Deigl und die Obrigkeit (adaptation of a work by Josef Martin Bauer), broadcast on television, 1974.
Sterntaler, first produced in Brunswick, West Germany, 1977.
Journey into Happiness, produced in New York City, 1983.
Help Wanted (six plays selected from Furcht und Hoffnung der BRD: Das Stück, das Material, das Tagebuch), translation by Gitta Honegger, first produced Off-Broadway at Theater for the New City, 1986.
Also author of "Hilfe, ich werde geheiratet" (title means "Help, I Am Getting Married").
(Under name Franz Kroetz) Heimarbeit, Hartnäckig, Mannersache: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1971.
Vier Stücke (contains "Stallerhof," "Wunschkonzert," "Geisterbahn," and "Lieber Fritz"), Suhrkamp, 1972.
Gesammelte Stücke (contains "Wildwechsel," "Heimarbeit," "Hartnäckig," "Mannersache," "Lieber Fritz," "Stallerhof," "Geisterbahn," "Wunschkonzert," "Michis Blut," "Dolomitenstadt Lienz," "Oberösterreich," "Maria Magdalena," and "Münchner Kindl"), Suhrkamp, 1975.
Farmyard, and Four Other Plays (contains "Farmyard," "Request Concert," "Michi's Blood," "Men's Business," and "A Man, a Dictionary"), translations by Jack Gelber, Michael Roloff, Peter Sander, and Carl Weber, introduction by Richard Gilman, Urizen Books, 1976.
Reise ins Glueck, Wunschkonzert, Weitere Aussichten: 3 Stücke, Sessler (Vienna, Austria), 1976.
Mensch Meier, Der stramme Max, Wer durchs Laub geht …: Drei neue Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1979.
Nicht Fisch, nicht Fleisch; Verfassungsfeinde; Jumbo-Track: Drei Stücke, Suhrkamp, 1981.
Stücke (title means "Plays"), edited with afterword by Jochen Ziller, Henschelverlag (Berlin, East Germany), 1981.
ADAPTATIONS: "Wildwechsel" was adapted as a television film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in West Germany for Intertel in 1973 (released in U.S. as "Game Pass"); "Mensch Meier," starring Kroetz, appeared on German television.
SIDELIGHTS: Franz Xaver Kroetz is widely recognized as one of Germany's most original and controversial experimental playwrights. Known for writing clipped dialogue or leaving it out entirely and for presenting a bleak and uncompromisingly honest perspective, he has been described by New York Times critic Frank Rich as a playwright who "practices kitchen-sink realism of the grimmest sort. (Let Mr. Kroetz's characters approach a kitchen sink, and they're likely to stick their hands into the disposal.)" Loneliness, isolation, and oppression permeate works that often feature the Bavarian dialect of the German peasants who are Kroetz's primary subjects. Many of his plays draw on the tradition of German folk plays and display his Marxist leanings. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Dan Sullivan characterized Kroetz as "a man who can create theater out of the emptiness of working-class life while silently protesting the structures that enforce this emptiness." Back Stage reviewer Dan Isaac observed that Kroetz's work "chronicles the grim determination of contemporary Germans who believe in the materialistic rewards of middle-class life with the same kind of compulsive fervor that their grandparents once gave to Hitler's National Socialism."
Kroetz's earlier works included his famous Stallerhof, translated as "Farmyard," in which Sepp, a middle-aged farmhand, seduces Beppi, the mentally challenged daughter of Sepp's boss, Staller. When he learns of their affair, Staller apparently kills Sepp's dog and orders him off the farm. It is later discovered that Beppi is pregnant, and Staller's wife considers aborting the child, but then doesn't. The play ends with Beppi suffering labor pains. In Heimarbeit, translated as "Domestic Labor," a wife is expecting a child not fathered by her husband, Willy. She attempts abortion, but only succeeds in inflicting birth defects on the baby. When Willy refuses to help her raise the child, Martha leaves and drowns the baby. She then returns to live with Willy once again. Kroetz's early plays focus on the hopelessness and angst of lower-class peasants. He creates characters that Isaac described as being "so vacuous that suicide would come as a happy ending."
A former Catholic school student who renounced the church when he was twenty, Kroetz joined the Communist Party in 1972, but left in 1980. Once a member of the Party, he frequently drew conclusions about the characters within his plays. In the International Dictionary of Theatre, a reviewer noted that "in later plays, Kroetz is explicitly more analytical, particularly where he deals with peasant life." The same reviewer added that "as a sometime member of the German Communist Party and an admirer of Bertolt Brecht, Kroetz focuses on the socially conditioned latent violence of the underprivileged. As a result, his writing often seems to sail perilously close to melodramatic sensationalism."
Kroetz's breakthrough work with American audiences was Request Concert, a wordless play about the loneliness of a single middle-aged woman conducting her daily routine. She comes home to her drab apartment after work, fixes dinner, cleans up, and listens to the radio, which provides the only voice heard during the play. Sullivan noted that Request Concert "doesn't pass the standard test for drama. No plot. No conflict. Not even any dialogue…. [but the play] is indeed drama, albeit as muted as the soul of its heroine." Sullivan and Rich agreed that the woman's apparently meaningless actions engage the viewer's empathy, revealing her personality in the care she takes in folding a towel or setting the table. An empty life is made bearable, for a while at least, by banal rituals. The play ends with the woman's equally banal suicide. Judging it "a strange, unsettling monodrama, a kind of voiceless equivalent of Jean Cocteau's The Human Voice," Rich admitted that the silent portrayal of ordinary events could easily have been boring. "But such is [Kroetz's] clear-sighted dramatic vision," he asserted, "that the mundane is transformed into something close to hypnotic."
Michi's Blood displays the empty lives of a couple whose communication consists largely of curses and sentence fragments and whose time is spent fighting, having rough sex, engaging in necrophilia. In the Washington Post David Richards observed, "Unpleasant as it may be, Michi's Blood is on to something about people deprived of language, purpose and the awareness of their own feelings." Rich acknowledged that the play's violence made for a painful evening, but he also deemed it "the work of a playwright whose singular vision cannot be ignored." Devoid of sentimentality and traditional character development, the play suggested to Rich that "there is nothing to be done for [Kroetz's] characters … short of setting fire to the world and rebuilding it from scratch."
In Through the Leaves Kroetz permits one of his two characters a glimmer of self-awareness. The play centers on a middle-aged woman running her own butcher shop, financially secure but trapped in a drab existence, whose loneliness drives her to become involved with an abusive man. In her diary she distorts her life. Commented Rich, "While [her diary entries] often end with phrases like 'everything is fine,' it's clear that Annette knows better." She is aware of her and her lover's inability to communicate, aware of the inadequacy of words, aware of finer things. It is "a strangely moving chamber play," reflected London Times reviewer Sarah Hemming, "sadly credible" and "moved by humour and an humane understanding of the loneliness of people half-aware of the slight ache of emptiness in their lives, yet hiding behind barriers." British Theatre Guide reviewer Philip Fisher remarked, "There may not be too much cheer in Kroetz's conclusion, but he does strip two limited people bare, thus exploring the ways in which human beings will treat each other."
Kroetz presents views of industrial families in The Nest, which shows how a truck driver's obedience to his boss in carelessly dumping toxic wastes harms first his newborn child and then his marriage and Mensch Meier, about a factory worker and his family's attempts to overcome their grim, limited existence. Judged by Rich a "brief but compelling play," The Nest raises hard questions about unthinking obedience and its corollary, inaction in the face of wrongdoing. Isaac recalled that when the mother in the The Nest realizes her infant's illness is a result of the her husband's carelessness she shouts, "You are nothing more than a well-trained ape!" Isaac concluded that the The Nest "is a pitiless work, without redemption and without illumination." Rich noted the play's relevance to the rise of Nazism and commended Kroetz's "vengeful blow against civilization's power to self-destruct." In Mensch Meier, which Rich termed "a relatively happy Kroetz work," the playwright offers a note of optimism, suggesting his characters can create new, more fulfilling lives as human beings instead of cogs in the industrial machine. Rich deemed the play "unconvincing," citing its "wan Marxist sentimentality," yet allowed that Kroetz still conveys his indictment of economic and cultural dehumanization—the latter attributed in part to television and popular music.
In his 1984 collection of brief plays, Furcht und Hoffnung der BRD, Kroetz covers a range of topics including unemployment, loneliness, the elderly, nuclear holocaust, and xenophobia. His treatment of unemployment drew particular praise from reviewers such as World Literature Today contributor Franz P. Haberl, who remarked upon the unemployed characters' different responses to their situation. "It is this variety of emotional and intellectual reactions which sustains, indeed increases, the dramatic intensity of these scenes," Haberl observed. Several scenes from the cycle were translated and performed in New York as Help Wanted in 1986. One concerns a woman whose loss of a job forces her back into marital servitude, another features a typically alienated Kroetz couple. Rich noted that in contrast to Kroetz's earlier works, these plays seemed wordy and occasionally flawed by sermonizing, but he also recognized "moments of characteristic Kroetz … bite. Now, as ever, the playwright presents a bleak portrait of degrading familial and sexual relationships that, in his view, reflect the brutality and dehumanization inflicted by the industrial state."
While mainly associated with the theater, Kroetz also published a novel and starred in a television series. His novel, Des Mondscheinknecht: Fortsetzung, published in 1983, was written in two parts during a time of personal crisis for Kroetz. The narrator of the novel is a physically handicapped typesetter who recounts his life details up to the desertion of the woman he intended to marry. A reviewer in the Oxford Companion to German Literature explained, "Writing restores his sense of identity in a world depriving him of his basic human dignity." The same reviewer observed that the strength of the novel exists "mainly in its first part." In 1988 he accepted a role as the corrupt gossip columnist Baby Schimmerlos in the popular miniseries Kir Royale. The role along with other television and radio appearances, made him a media superstar.
Depicting all manner of violent, shocking, tasteless, or merely routine events, Kroetz sheds a glaring light on how the working class lives and forces his audience to reexamine the failings in society thus revealed. He has created a "substantially different style and dramaturgy in German drama," contended Dragan Klaic in Yale Theatre. The critic pointed out that unlike other twentieth-century German playwrights, who did not feature the lower classes, Kroetz clearly prefers to portray such laborers, examining the mindless routine and economic constraints of their work, the deadening mass-culture they receive from television, their inability to communicate effectively because of inadequate education. Using unflinching realism to make his points, Kroetz has become identified with a kind of drama that, according to Rich, "sticks like a splinter in the mind."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Arnold, Heinz Ludwig, editor, Kroetz, (Munich, Germany), 1978.
Bharucha, Rustom, Theatre and the World, Manohar Publications (New Delhi, India), 1990.
Blevins, Richard W., Kroetz: The Emergence of a Political Playwright, Lang, 1983.
Carl, Rolf-Peter, and others, Kroetz, Beck (Munich, Germany), 1978.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 41, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Garland, Henry and Mary, Oxford Companion to German Literature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Hoffmeister, Donna L., The Theater of Confinement: Language and Survival in the Milieu Plays of Marieluise Fleisser and Franz Xaver Kroetz, Camden House (Columbia, SC), 1983.
International Dictionary of Theatre, Volume 2: Playwrights, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Back Stage, September 28, 1990, Michael Sommers, review of Through the Leaves, p. 48; September 30, 1994, Dan Isaac, review of The Nest, p. 44; June 11, 1993, David Sheward, review of Extended Forecast, p. 40.
Choice, June, 1993, review of Through the Leaves and Other Plays, p. 1630.
Library Journal, December, 1992, review of Through the Leaves and Other Plays, p. 138.
Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1983; January 8, 1986.
New Republic, May 28, 1984.
New York Times, March 17, 1981; September 10, 1982; February 29, 1984; April 6, 1984; October 7, 1984; February 17, 1986; March 2, 1989.
Times (London, England), April 30, 1985.
Times Literary Supplement, October 7, 1977.
Washington Post, May 25, 1982.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1977; autumn, 1985.
Yale Theatre, fall, 1974.
British Theatre Guide Web site, http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/ (November 5, 2003), Philip Fisher, review of Through the Leaves.
Methuen Web site, http://www.methuen.co.uk/ (November 5, 2003).*