Picture owned by University Players
Entering the Audimax on a Tuesday night, heading towards the signs “The Man from Earth”, which then change into arrows leading the way—it feels like a scout’s trip to me. At the bar/ticket/wardrobe-corridor, three welcoming faces remind me of the fact that the show has already begun. One of them kindly leads me upstairs and gently opens the door so that neither the audience nor the players will be disturbed by my habit of running late.
Simon Deggim as John Oldman sits on his antique couch, which is positioned in the middle of the stage and represents John’s house. Tim Kuhr as Dan leans on the couch from behind. Both are highly affectionate talkers. John tries to convince Dan that he moves places after a certain time because it’s a habit of his to do so. Relatable, I think.
In fact, as it turns out later in the play, John is a man from the Stone Age—a Cro-Magnon man in particular—who is forever trapped in his 35-year-old body. He does not age, he does not scar; even though he gets sick. “Sometimes even seriously”, he tells his former colleagues, “I survived the Black Death.” Therefore, he has to move places: so that no one starts to ask questions.
On stage there are two armchairs fitting the antique couch, a piano, lots of cartons with “charity” signs attached to them, a camping table with drinks and snacks on it, and equally fitting camping chairs. The back of the stage is out of view for the audience because of a black curtain running from the far right to the far left. A couple of times characters go behind the curtain but they’re still audible and therefore part of the play.
At the very front of the stage are three steps and characters enter John’s house by climbing them. Therefore, the characters leave the stage when leaving the theatre-room.
The break with the fourth wall is supported by the visual and audio effects the crew of the university players create. Whenever characters come around John’s house, lights shine down the aisle in front of the stage illustrating a car—or a motorbike as is the case when Steven Montero as Art comes with Kim Neumann playing Linda—while sounds of those vehicles arise from the stereo.
The idea of John being 14 thousand years old creates different reactions in all of the characters. Although the whole story starts out as a sci-fi mind-play; eventually John becomes serious about it and changes his would-be sentences into mediations of his past. Dan, an anthropology professor, is particularly interested in John’s story and one of the few who leaves his house uncertain about the truth/falsehood of John’s story at the end of the play. Because however serious John gets during the play, at the end he denies it all because of his friends’ devastated disposition. Especially Christelle Gebhardt as Edith, who is an art historian and a very concerned Christian, wants John to stop talking immediately when John admits that he has taken part as one of the leading figures in the Bible. But he goes on, stating that he, in fact, was Jesus of Nazareth. That is when Edith loses it and starts crying. John tries to comfort her by saying that everyone interpreted his story in a different and therefore wrong way. He used to be a disciple of Buddha and wanted to bring Buddha’s beliefs to the west using modern language.
Will, played by David Heuberg, is a psychiatrist who enters the stage in the middle of the play. After he is introduced to John’s story by the other characters, he tells John to lay down on his couch like one of his patients. Will asks John about his early childhood—obviously affected by Freud’s psychoanalysis. While John explains that he has seen many people die and has asked himself if he was the reason for it, Will suggests that he is a vampire. The other figures on stage are taken aback by Will’s suggestion. After some more time of discussion, Will pulls a gun pointing to John’s head. The tension is palpable. Dan wants to interfere, but John plays his role as the honest and therefore fearless “man from earth” by stating that he himself does not know what would happen if Will should pull the trigger. But if Will did and John would actually die, non-of them would ever know whom or what Will had killed. Reluctantly, Will lowers the gun, throws it on the floor and leaves the stage for a while. John—whilst being the one least affected by Will’s outburst—takes the gun and recognizes its empty cartridge magazine.
The only one who seems particularly uninterested in John’s stories is Sandy, played by Aaron Anaïs Meyer. It is rather obvious that Sandy is infatuated with John, which leads to a certain discrepancy between the overall realistic atmosphere and the naive ignorance of all the other characters toward her behavior. Nonetheless, her charisma is played convincingly.
Pieter Ketelings as Harry is the one who’s responsible for most of the audience’s laughter. He, as Dan, seems to consider John’s story to be valid. Due to his profession as a biologist, however, he is unable to think of any reason why John should have survived for such a ridiculously long time. Due to Harry’s appreciation of John’s Blue Johnny Walker, he becomes really drunk during the play. For me, Ketelings really masters the thin line between making fun of himself and not being ludicrous.
Equally important are the two female players Fiona Fix as Renate and Levke Jorina Steinert as Mandy. They first appear as “moving” women, taking John’s furniture. While Renate is the one in overalls, Mandy is the intern in dark clothing who spends more time on her phone and eating snacks from the camping table at John’s than actually doing the work. Their interference in the highly affectionate discussion of the academics is only slightly noticeable. One of the “moving” women creates laughter when falling on cushions she is about to take from John, while he is outside talking repetitively about falling. (Please notice that some jokes were especially made for the last show and therefore might not have been part in earlier stagings.) At the end of the play—only John, Will and Sandy are left on stage—John and Will realize that the former is the latter’s father. Will dies from a heart-attack when finding out and Fiona Fix and Levke Jorina Steinert reappear on stage as medics. The university players’ crew succeed again by creating blue flashing lights behind the curtains and loud sirens over the stereo.
Eventually the stage goes black. Clapping hands and whistles fill the Audimax, while the actors position themselves on stage and the lights come back on. The actors leave the stage multiple times, just to reappear in different constellations, claiming their well-deserved applause.
On my way home I realize what made the play so palpable: since the name of the university, where John Oldman is a history professor, is never mentioned intentionally, the play’s setting stays unspecific and therefore the whole point of the play stays crucial:
How would you react if John was your friend?
David was listening to “chaos in the CBD” while writing this review.
PS: I visited the last show of “The Man from Earth”. Anyone who’s interested to join the crew or wants to audition for upcoming roles please visit the University Players’ website.