In a With 13 Moons

By David A. Rosenberg

Time has stopped at Yale Rep. Its production of “In a Year With 13 Moons” feels at least as long as the title. Based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s well-received 1978 film, on stage it’s the kind of theatrical torture test that has you looking at your watch every five minutes.

 

Fassbinder, who died in 1982 at age 37 and directed several major films, such as “The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant,” “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and “Querelle,” deserves better. As translated from the German by Louisa Proske, and adapted by Bill Camp and Robert Woodruff, the Yale production follows the film in telling of Elvira, who used to be Erwin before his sex change. Once a husband with a daughter, Elvira now lives with her lover Christoph.

 

But she’s “lonely, lonely, lonely.” When Christoph calls her “a fat, revolting, superfluous blob of meat” and packs his bag, she gets the point. Love is hell.

 

Elvira wanders about, encountering a sympathetic prostitute, a talkative nun, a man who’s been staring up at a building for 17 months and another who justifies his impending suicide. Finally, she gets to see Anton Saitz, to whom Elvira, then Erwin, once confessed his love, evoking Anton’s chilling response, “If only he was a girl.” Erwin took him seriously to his chagrin.

 

Add masturbation, Martin and Lewis, Kafka, the liberal use of TV monitors and cameras and a pair of concentration camp prisoners, reminders of Germany’s and Anton’s past. Oh, yes, there’s a stylized slaughterhouse scene with bloodied workers dragging willing actors wearing animal heads.

 

Camp, off-Broadway’s darling, gives a brave, inspired performance as Elvira, down to feminine underwear. Director Woodruff, who also adapted Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata” at Yale in 2011, is apparently obsessed with filching the work of great filmmakers. With fingernails-on-a-blackboard music by Michael Attias, this is maddening stuff whose images work better in movies than on stage.

 

After all, there’s just so much theatergoers can take -- and about a dozen fled during the performance. No doubt they were spurred by lines like, “I can’t put words together anymore so that they make sense. As if I had all these wires and pipes in my head and some of them were clogged,” followed by “Let’s go. Let’s leave this place.”

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