Since 2007, play author, director, and performer John Rosenberg has brought nothing if not innovative Dada-ist twists to modern theater courtesy his affiliation with and building of the Hella Fresh Theater, a ferociously independent theater company based in the Papermill Theater built into an old warehouse in Kensington. Obviously, with a pandemic, Rosenberg’s Hella Fresh company has had to sit the season out in a physical sense. That, however, does not mean that he and they can’t get to you courtesy the U.S. mail.
Frauenschlläechtere, a new, self-penned, experimental mystery comedy starring Effie Kammer, and from Rosenberg’s hand, is described as a tall tale where “a German lawyer in 1933 Hollywood tries to make Brigette Helm – a famed Berlin actress known for Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” – an American star.”
Presented in weekly installments, “Frauenschlläechtere,” will be sent to any audience member anywhere for $15, via the USPS mail, and culminating in a socially distant performance in one’s home. Starring Effie Kammer, written and directed by John Rosenberg.
Buy it HERE, until October 1, 2020.
I caught up with Rosenberg to see just what it means to make odd drama by mail.
A.D. Amorosi: Frauenschlläechtere translates in English to mean “more women.” How does the title relate to the play’s content and/or concept?
John Rosenberg: I don’t speak German. The actress in the play does speak German. When working with the actress in the show, Effie Kammer, I asked her how to translate the term womanslaughter. As in the crime of manslaughter but say woman instead. Effie told me there isn’t an exact translation, but frauenschlläechtere comes close. The play is about a German lawyer who moves to Hollywood in order to make Brigette Helm an American star. Brigette Helm was a German actress in the 1920s and 1930s, best known for playing dual lead roles in the silent movie Metropolis. While living the life of a movie star in Germany in the 1930s, Ms. Helm killed someone in a car accident and was arrested on manslaughter charges. Supposedly Ms. Helm was pardoned by Hitler.
A.D. Amorosi: That’s intriguing. When did you write this show in relation to the pandemic, and, if it wasn’t penned this year, what made it an apt and heady cocktail for the present?
John Rosenberg: The plays I do, they are based in some way on the actors in the show. Frauenschlläechtere in a way is based on Effie Kammer. Me and Effie started talking about doing a play of some sort in April. We would talk every Friday at 1 pm about theater stuff and the idea for the play took shape during the phone calls.
A.D. Amorosi: Your overall thrust, what I know of your writing, seems to be a vision of short sharp punches, hard wordy character-driven things with slender storylines. What most attracts you to that aesthetic?
John Rosenberg: I don’t think it matters as much as what happens in a play as opposed to how it is told. For me, the fascinating spectacle is the tension between who we want to be and who we are, as humans and also as Americans. My challenge has always been to try to create conversational based plays where action comes about through the medium of conversation – the tension between what we want and how we say it, our inability to be as smart as we think we are and the beautiful pitfalls of miscommunication, assumptions, prejudices, and perception. Hahaha, it is possible I just am not good enough to write skilled plot-driven plays.
A.D. Amorosi: So how does all that work where Frauenschlläechtere is concerned?
John Rosenberg: I think what I say a play is about and what actually happens in the play are two wildly different things. If the play was purely about Brigette Helm, a real-life movie star, it would be some esoteric, biopic on-the-nose boring shit for most people. The play is about her lawyer, so it is not esoteric.
A.D. Amorosi: Without looking at the Hella Fresh Theater catalog, is it all your writing?
John Rosenberg: I think so. I mean, it is a game of what you do with your exposition and plot. I love to bury it in long conversations. My big thing is audiences are smart and can figure out what is going on. it is fun to challenge them to find it on their own.
A.D. Amorosi: Tell me something, please, about coming up with the mail aspect of Frauenschlläechtere… And other than expense, why U.S. snail mail?
John Rosenberg: When the pandemic happened and everything shut down, the challenge I found for myself was thinking of this as an opportunity to figure out different modes of storytelling. I wasn’t interested in trying to write something for when life went back to normal. I felt like that is a good way to get old. I think given that everyone is isolated in their own homes, sending a play via the mail seemed like the right way to present a play to audiences in a different way. It also is a challenge to figure out how to tell a story through the mail and not do an epistolary thing.
A.D. Amorosi: Does it come in the mail as a DVD, a computer thumb file? And it is a once-weekly package until Oct 1? And what happens on a week such as this when I’m writing this for July 27? Can I catch up?
John Rosenberg: What people get in the mail are various shards of a person’s life. The thing I am aiming to do is present a play that is not on a screen. Some people might feel it isn’t theater because you aren’t roasting in a black box or watching a live stream of whatever. Bullpucky. Anyone can start the play whenever. There are subscribers who are on the seventh installment of the play, some people just signed up. There are subscribers to Frauenschlläechtere in Philly, Chicago, NY, NJ, LA, Oakland, Portland, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Austin, the Netherlands, and Northern Ireland.
A.D. Amorosi: The final chapter… Is it already written?
John Rosenberg: It is but it will change Hella. I am thinking about extending the play beyond ten parts.
A.D. Amorosi: So, how many people from Hella will come to one’s home for the finale? You, Effie, any lights or sound? And what is the performance rule of safely distanced theater?
John Rosenberg: (laughing) That is a secret. The only danger will be loving the play and not wanting it to end or falling asleep because it was dumb.
A.D. Amorosi: Do you hope people will put out food and drink for you? It seems only fair.
John Rosenberg: I really like unsweetened Tejava ice tea. It is available at Trader Joes and costs $1.99.