Joachim Meyerhoff, Laid Bare

Meyerhoff: “One of the most remarkable theater people in the German-speaking world”

Joachim Meyerhoff in part 6 of Alle Toten fliegen hoch | Photo: Reinhard Werner

A German teenager visits a high security prison in America. A fellow German, on death row for murder, addresses him. They begin a long correspondence. One day the man, his sentence commuted, turns up on the door-step of the teenager’s family.

The teenager, now in his early forties, is Joachim Meyerhoff, an actor who relates his story in a dry, unsentimental voice to a packed house in Vienna’s Akademietheater. And the man he is talking about, he tells us, is there in the room. Bald, in his fifties, wearing a denim jacket and jeans, he stands up and there is a round of applause.

“Is that really a murderer?” a voice calls out. The audience is at once aghast and fascinated by this unexpected confrontation with reality.

There were many memorable moments in Alle Toten fliegen hoch, parts 1-3, which were shown last year, but this was surely one of the most dramatic. The second series of sketches, parts 4-6 in March, included Theorie und Praxis (Theory and Practice), Heute wärst du zwölf (Today You Would Have Been Twelve) and Ach diese Lücke, diese entsetzliche Lücke (Ah, These Holes, these Infuriating Holes).

Joachim Meyerhoff is one of the most remarkable theater people in the German-speaking world. A writer and director as well as an actor, he writes for and directs himself. No small achievement. Most extraordinary of all his ability to write about, direct and act in a show about his own life, which he carries off with a ready wit and sense of irony. In fact, without these qualities it would be probably impossible to do so.

Joachim Meyerhoff has no problem dealing with the intimate details of his life. After all as he once put it: “I am happy to be naked (onstage).”  On the other hand the audience never knows how much is true, and how much fiction.

“Who knows what one has experienced and what one has been told?” he once said: Art is a key that unlocks many a memory, “without the bridge of fiction, there are some things I would never have remembered.”

For Meyerhoff story-telling is at once “calming and a counterbalance to acting”; “I am not as broken as the theater would like me to be and I am not as sound as I appear to be on my autobiographical evenings.”

His two mainstays are the epic, structured story-telling of his memory evenings and the “vehement, loud, extreme, chopped-up, profane, and stupid” when he acts in other plays.

“The most beautiful thing about theater is that nothing remains,” he says, “It is a sweet pain.” This is not entirely true: what remains is the memory of a remarkable evening, an exceptional performance and a brilliant performer.


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