This evening I went to go see the German version of “Kiss Me Kate” at the Komische Oper here in Berlin, and let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: if glitter, makeup, and a touch of pornographically inappropriate costuming is your style, than all it takes is one visit to this bastion of absurdity to remind you that Cabaret-inspired performance is still very much alive in this city.
I’d seen one show at the Komische Oper before, and I guess had managed to forget (or at least blank out) the sheer absurdity of the place. This earlier performance, in October, had been Alice in Wonderland, and I had described it to friends as “Tim Burton-esque but with a male Playboy bunny as the white rabbit, and a series of Catholic school-girl Lolitas playing multiple Alices.” In case you’re having a hard time understanding what I mean, picture this: a man in a white body suit, with one full leg going down to his ankle and the other leg nonexistent, cut across his groin like a leotard, and then one full arm down to the wrist, and the other arm sleeveless, complete with a fluffy bunny-tail pom-pom sticking out of his backside. The story itself went absolutely nowhere (which was, I suppose, excusable, it being a ballet) and was more a way for all the various dancers to show off the many inventive ways they could simulate and make references to sex onstage.
Kiss Me Kate had the beginning advantage of being one of the greatest classic American musicals by one of the greatest American songwriters, but in addition, the entire thing, both script and song lyrics, had been translated into German, adding on another layer of hilarity perhaps only equaled by the experience of watching drunk Germans singing karaoke in a bar in Prenzlauer Berg (which I actually did last Friday). But then there were the costumes. Dear lord, the costumes: imagine painfully blinding glittery fabric employed in every which way possible, most notably to outfit both men and women in cowboy outfits that resembled something like what you imagined S&M outfits to be when you were fifteen. (Yes, this includes ass-less chaps with thongs for women, and crotch grazing hot-pants for men). The male lead, who plays the actor who plays Petruchio (sorry I can’t be more articulate than that, but if you know the story, you know what I mean) walked around half the time in what appeared to be an Aladdin-esque Sultan’s outfit in a silver, disco-ball fabric, with a rainbow colored sash draped permanently over one shoulder. My two favorites, of course, would have to be the women who wore the human equivalent of “don’t lick your stitches” dog collars in orange tulle, from which their completely bald (and I’m assuming wigged) heads emerged grotesquely, and the women who wore anatomically correct fat suits covered in flesh-colored sequins, with red and brown used to sketch out the requisite body parts.
And in terms of song translations, we had, of course, “Schlag Nach Bei Shakespeare” for “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (during which, of course, the two jokesters singing the song kept on coming back on stage in more and more lurid outfits, instead of singing in progressively higher- and higher-class British accents), and “S’ist Viel Zu Heiß,” for “It’s Too Darn Hot.” Of course, having borrowed a copy of “My Fair Lady” translated into German from my friend Patricia, I knew that German translations of classic American musicals could be both genuinely impressive and unintentionally hilarious. Either way, I figured that, just like “My Fair Lady,” almost all of which I am able to understand as I read it, mostly because I know nearly the whole thing by heart in English and am able to match up words and phrases, “Kiss Me Kate” would be an interesting educational experience. At the halfway point in the show, I turned to Agnes, who had graciously arrived early to get us our tickets while I was still at work, and remarked to her just how happy I was that I knew the story already, and just how lost I would if I hadn’t. The one thought that kept on running through my head as I watched this spectacle was the fact the costumes were actually real; that someone had actually made them and that, consequently, someone else had actually paid to have them made. It was as though a three-year old had been let loose on a room full of craft supplies and had created the costumes for the show out of construction paper, pipe-cleaners, and sprinkle-on glitter in one afternoon.
During the intermission, after Agnes and I had been speaking together in English for a good ten minutes, the very old woman who had been sitting next to me asked excitedly where I was from. When I told her “New York,” she asked if it was my first time in Berlin. I explained to her that it wasn’t, and that I had in fact seen this show in New York several years ago (I hesitate to say that anything happened “many” years ago in the presence of someone with white hair). “Don’t you love the show?” She asked rhetorically, “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Okay, so maybe her English wasn’t that good, but at that moment I’d be surprised if a puff of smoke in the shape of a giant, cartoonish question mark didn’t appear over my head. And actually, I think it’s still there….
Just in case you want more, Agnes found a video on Youtube of “Too Darn Hot” performed by this very company. For your viewing pleasure and perplexity: