There’s nothing like a woman who is desperate for a child. Make that woman Mennonite, and you have a naughty tale on your hands.
The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz, staged at the Rachael Browne Theatre through Theatre Projects Manitoba, is written by former CreComm instructor, Armin Wiebe. The story is set on the outskirts of a Mennonite Village, in the home of Obrum and Susch Kehler, and chronicles the story of Susch having a baby. Low German is used throughout the play – a common element in Wiebe’s work. During a seminar, Wiebe said he could “make the language sing.” And while the actors and actresses did an incredible job with the accent and language, as I understood the humour without understanding the language, Wiebe made it easy with likable and quirky characters.
A cozy set for The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz
Obrum Kehler (Tom Keenan, of Zooey and Adam fame) is a hard working, loving husband who has, ahem issues in the bedroom. While it may be fun trying, there is still no baby. But he remains a positive character, thinking of a way to solve this little problem. It is Obrum who brings home the piano, and in turn Mr. Beethoven Blatz (Eric Nyland, played the piano beautifully), a refugee of the Russian revolution – who hears the music in his head, sharing space with his thoughts of a lover named Sonya. He is a nuisance in some sense, taking forever to fix a broken piano and teaching Susch to play. And in another, the glue of the story, each character’s desire relates to him in some way (discussed later)
Susch Kehler (Tracy Penner) is wanting. She wants a child, her husband home with her, a new house, Beethoven to stay – Beethoven to go. In many ways I found this was Susch’s story, which was confirmed when Wiebe remarked in a talk back that the play originated for an almost-novel, which had been written from Susch’s perspective. And then there’s Teen (Daria Puttaert, also of Zooey and Adam fame), the village midwife who matched Susch with Obrum, knowing he wasn’t able to give her a child. Through her initial body language – sitting on the bench with her legs wide apart – Teen had a different presence about her. Not long after, Teen’s budding love for Susch comes to the surface, and culminates in an intimate silent moment helping Susch into a red silk dress.
Blatz is pivotal throughout as Obrum looks to him to solve the issue, Susch takes it upon herself to use Blatz for her own means while he in turn uses her as his muse. And for Teen, Blatz is another male presence in Susch’s life, and she isn’t happy about that. In one scene Teen tells Susch she’d be the one giving her a child if she had the means – er, equipment.
The story dabbles with the biblical not only because it deals with Mennonites, but also in its over arching theme. Obrum (Abraham) and Susch (Sarah) are struggling to have children, much like their biblical name sakes who only became parents when they were close to 100 years old. Also, there is a connection in that Obrum is called to work away from home, just as God called to Abraham to leave his home – that upon returning, he would be rewarded with heirs to a great nation. But despite this subtext, there is nothing preachy or overly religious about the show – in fact there’s partial nudity and awkward sex on stage (pretend here).
Those Mennonites know how to put on a good show.
What I enjoyed the most about the talkback/ seminar with Wiebe is his willingness to discuss his writing process. Since 1996, The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz has been reworked many times, as a short story, an almost novel, and then a first draft play. Wiebe didn’t shy away from work shopping and rewriting, as discussed here. Director Kim McCaw saw the first scenes of the play and decided he would direct it once the manuscript was developed. “The play was a trampoline for the actors. We would see which springs held and which didn’t, and fix it from there.”
Wiebe mentioned one of the things he didn’t consider while writing for stage were simple stage directions such as the lamp. “I had it turning off, but not on.” But directions are minimal in the script, and Wiebe himself said with confidence he loved the way the show turned out.
To view Wiebe’s fiction related to the play, see here.