When he turns away a Catholic priest from a delusional dying girl, esteemed director of a private clinic, the Jewish Professor Bernhardi staggers unwittingly into a political affair.
His selfish peers manipulate facts to whip up a scandal and play off latent anti-Semitic resentments. What begins as a small confrontation between two men culminates in the ruin of the doctor’s reputation.
While his cast of 16 shines, particularly in the production’s rare slapstick moments, Thomas Ostermeier’s overwhelmingly naturalistic direction of Schnitzler’s 1912 tragic comedy, feels like a dry autopsy of the scandal, albeit a timely one.
In a return to the Schaubühne ensemble, Jörg Hartmann – an audience favourite who plays a bedraggled detective in the long-running TV police drama, Tatort – plays the title role, meeting the political farce playing out around him with aloof smiles and amused exasperation. In contrast, there is little elegance to the self-serving antagonists with Sebastian Schwarz leading the pack as the slimy, nepotistic Ebenwald.
In dramaturg Florian Borchmeyer’s updated version, the self-important pompousness with which the schemers reassure themselves of their own authority is matched by clarity of plot. In many long conversations, staged on Jan Pappelbaum’s plain paper-white set, the piece explores how relying on common sense often fails as a strategy when it comes to shocking distortions of public discourse.
The overall static feel of the show is broken up by Katharina Ziemke’s painting. She scrawls on the sterile white walls of the set – complete with hand sanitiser – a metaphor for the messy processes that are at work in a post-truth society.
Originally published in The Stage.