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test-traveler/polar star

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"Snowstorm, Elephant, The Wall Falls"
by April Lamm 2000
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

translated from German by Melanie Whitaker and Richard Collins

The test-traveler: how manic visions of history twenty years ago became a theatre piece


Is it possible that a young man with special powers could have brought down the Berlin Wall? What Thomas Brussig dramatized in his novel, "Heroes Like Us" long after the event, Peter Rose, a New York Jew, had already imagined ten years before the event. In his theatre piece, "Berlin Zoo;" Rose fantasizes an alliance of squatters, unhappy Turkish patriarchs and postal workers from Banhof Zoo. They manage to tear down The Wall with the help of elephants wielding railroad beams as battering rams. The piece has been performed on various stages in The United States and Europe since 1983. It was performed for the last time on that November night in 1989 when the border opened for real.

Peter Rose lives in Berlin and "The Friends of Italian Opera," an English Language theatre has recently introduced his latest autobiographical performance (which will tour European cities): "test traveler/polar star" deals with the life of a traveler who's always in the right place at the right time. It also relates his manic visions in the late seventies (brought on by bi-polar disorder) which provoked and confirmed his vision of becoming The Messiah of a unified Berlin.

As a young man in 1978, Rose arrived in Berlin by chance. An extraordinary snowstorm throughout Central Europe stranded him at Berlin's Lichtenberg Banhof (East Berlin) and preventing him from continuing his journey to Wroclaw, Poland where he was to participate in a workshop with The Polish theatre legend, Jerzy Grotowski. On the platform, Rose met the beautiful K. She invited him to her home for a cup of tea which was quite dangerous in those days, tantamount to committing a crime against the state. To show K. his gratitude, he promised her that The Wall would come down very soon. To which she responded, "Oh, Peter, you are so funny!". Finally he found his way to Poland. After working with Grotowski's theatre group during the next two years he was asked to leave the country in 1980 because of his association with The Solidarnosc/Solidarity Movement.

Stranded in West Berlin, a new manic phase came over him. Homeless and penniless, he spent a lonely night inside a circus tent at The Tempodrome. The following morning he was awoken by piles of dirt tossed on him by a nearby elephant's trunk. Rose left quickly and arrived by The Wall not far from Anhalter Banhof. There he found a cross with photos of East Germans killed trying to escape over The Wall. He attached his International Student Identity Card to the cross. At that moment he was seized by the vision of bringing The Wall down in concert with Berlin's other misfits and outcasts.

Peter Rose was often obsessed with fantastic theories during his manic phases, unaware that he was on the cusp of insanity. It was only in 1987 that he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder (or manic-depression). The illness and its phases had broken his life down into islands of sickness and health. They appear in his play like episodes. They are animated on stage in a tour-de-force of agility, humor and historical perspective. In answer to a therapist's question, "How much did your childhood and parent's divorce influence your life?" He responds wryly, "No more than World War II influenced Berlin."

In his play, shreds and fragments of the narrators memory swirl and spiral around certain vortexes: New York, Berlin, Warsaw and The California Desert. None of these places are very far from each other; they meet in the man and his experiences. In one scene set in 1963 his parents are evicted from their New York apartment, At the same time an American president proclaims himself and all free men Berliners. A made for television documentary, "The Tunnel," porttrays an escape from East Berlin and receives top viewer ratings in The States. All of this seems to belong to a secret plan, one in which Rose plays an important part. He's astonished at being served a strange concoction for breakfast called, "quark," the smallest particle known to physicists. On airplanes he drinks miniature vodkas, bottles made for Lilliputians, fitting for a world that is indeed so small.

This hypnotic and unnerving one-man performance is a picaresque combination of autobiography and the delusions of grandeur brought on by the illness. It follows no chronological order but springs onto a manic tightrope and plummets to depressive abysses. At times the narration is almost panicky in stark contrast to the calming tones of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Briano Eno which accompany Rose's narrative flow. The globe-trotter eventually becomes world weary although simply being can create a different discomfort. Today he lives with K, an eye doctor. After The Wall came down and after more than ten years, they met again. The idea that the world is a sphere and not a flat surface from which one could suddenly fall is more imaginable now.

Still, a "test-traveler" never knows how the road will curve or collapse but is committed to the beauty and possibility of each test."



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