Wall Street’s Dry Powder in Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is a new city for me and I am immediately enchanted. When you grew up in Germany it is unlikely you have come across The Sound of Music and if you are Austrian you might have thanks to American, English and Japanese tourists. I was only introduced to it when I moved to London myself. And wondered why I would watch it when I could watch Mary Poppins. Austrians I met here had not heard of the musical before they had come to London. But I always wanted to go to Salzburg though (thanks to Miloš Forman’s masterpiece of a film Amadeus) and when I notice a poster that the musical Hair (which was also made into a film by Mr. Forman) will have a tour stop here on April 5th I am beaming happily even though I know I will have left by then.

While I spend the first evening in company drinking cocktails and watching bats at the banks of the river Salzach while listening to the sound of choirs practicing somewhere, I have the second evening to myself. My hotel is not far away from the Landestheater Salzburg and I look forward to admiring its plastering and red carpets with golden décor. In the box office I am informed though that tonight’s show will be next door in the much smaller Kammerspiele (the intimate theatre the translation goes) where I can watch Sarah Burgess‘ Dry Powder. I buy a ticket and only then realize that it is not the escapism I have hoped for – Dry Powder is playing here for the first time on European grounds, straight from New York where it premiered in 2016. After having spent the day fascinated by baroque Catholicism in Salzburg’s street courts, churches and chapels, cemeteries and catacombs (up in the mountain) this drama is as far away as you can get from alpine kitsch, Mozart wigs and the old traditional values.

The Kammerspiele in Salzburg, Austria

Before the show starts I am treated in the Kammerspiele’s lobby to the exhibition of some amazing puppets-on-a-string – this space is shared with the world-famous, Unesco-recognized Salzburger Marionetten-Theater, founded in 1913 and I therefore meet some fantastic characters I remember from childhood like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince and Wilhelm Busch’s rascals Max und Moritz.

Get a taste of the puppet-on-a-string theatre of Salzburg in the lobby exhibition

Going to my seat I am stopped and introduced verbally to the German word Garderobenzwang which makes the use of the cloak room (for 1 Euro) compelling. At least in Zurich they did not charge for it when being prompted and after all it was a premiere I joined. When I finally do sit down I have been given the printed program free of charge: Besides the play’s creators in America and its adaption here in Austria authour Don DeLillo is given space in it and so is Donald Trump – we can read of business being done by both in New York’s skyscrapers. In their own words. Big Business.

Firstly I am surprised that this play about the brutal turbocapitalism in New York’s Wall Street is being shown here and not in London, Frankfurt or Zurich. Someone must have yearned for some cultural contrast indeed. Later I will read that the UK premiere in Hampstead Theatre in London was a day after the one in Austria.

Entirely witnessing what is happening on stage through the windows of skyscrapers, the audience’s view depends on the level of metal blinds open or closed. Even the sound of these being adjusted is threatening. We witness office golf, ice-cold calculated ambition, military aggression and cynicism beyond borders of people proud to be predators, proud to be in a business they call “war”. The managing board knows redundancies are not “pretty”, especially not when you are weak, but neither pretty is being second. Not when you know what success smells like. Pecunia non olet, money does not stink. People stink.

For some reason I must think of those sales people having crossed my way whose acting career failed but who succeeded in the field instead because they were trained so well in the game of public speaking, body language and improvisation. Here we witness the mean side of it: Calculation, bribe and bluff and profit for investors above everything. They blame us but take our money, a statement goes. The Californian entrepreneur, who we first think will bring some morals to the setup, will not be able to resist the call of personal profit either – not at that dollar number, not if that amount of money goes directly to him. And so the deal is sealed, the jobs are gone and what is left outsourced to Bangladesh. They win. Hell, are they good at what they are doing. I wish it was satire. It is not.

What can consumers offer us, they ask. A stageblog (question mark optional).

Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess – for the first time played in German

Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess, directed by Claus Tröger

**** out of 4 stars

The play premiered in Europe at the Landestheater Salzburg’s Kammerspiele in 2018.

My seat number 2 in row number 7 cost 25 Euro.

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