Judgment Day (“Der jüngste Tag”), a gripping 1937 drama by Austro-Hungarian Ödön von Horváth, opened yesterday as part of Bard SummerScape 2010. A runaway hit of last fall’s theater season in London, the play implicitly investigates the roots of Nazism among Austria-Hungary’s ordinary working people. Endowed with topical themes and a compelling plot and characters, Judgment Day is the story of an unhappily married stationmaster in a small town who causes a fatal train crash when he allows a flirtatious young woman to distract him from his duties. The girl perjures herself to defend him, and support for her lie poisons the town, drawing everyone deeper into a moral abyss.
As the Daily Variety concludes, in its review of the London production, “von Horváth was asking dangerous questions about his own time – [the stationmaster] clearly represents those who were standing by ‘doing their duty’ as Fascism descended on his native Austria-Hungary – that still resonate.”
The new production from acclaimed young Irish director Caitriona McLaughlin, in translation from the German by Academy Award-winner Christopher Hampton, will be presented in ten performances between July 14 and 25. Performances will take place in Theater Two of the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Bard College’s Hudson River campus. For tickets call 845-758-7900, or go to fishercenter.bard.edu.
In the English-speaking world, von Horváth productions have proved as well-received as they are rare. A runaway hit of the fall 2009 season in London, von Horváth’s Judgment Day is, according to the city’s Independent newspaper, “a fascinating drama about guilt and the compulsion towards conformism in small communities.” The Guardian likewise pronounced the play a “gripping moral fable,” and praised von Horváth’s ability “to find historical resonance in a local tragedy,” while the Daily Telegraph confessed, “One leaves the theater impatient to see more of Horváth’s morally complex and highly atmospheric work.”
After Brecht, Ödön von Horváth (1901-38) was probably the greatest playwright of the Weimar Republic, and one of the few who recognized the approach of fascism or grasped the underlying social trends that produced it. Instead of emigrating in the early 1930s like so many of his colleagues, von Horváth initially remained in Berlin to study National Socialism at first hand. The result is a body of work bearing invaluable witness to the callous and petty nature of everyday life under fascism, which would culminate in his final play, Judgment Day (1937).
For more information go to fishercenter.bard.edu.