How to Mend a Broken Heart

Theatre group Rimini Protokoll present "Blaiberg and Sweetheart 19" in Zurich

By Roland Müller

05.04.2006 / Stuttgarter Zeitung

What can't you do with a heart! You can conquer and lose it, give it away and break it, bewitch and sadden it. You can wear your heart on your sleeve and have it overflow with joy, feel it race and stop. You can massage it and operate on it, remove and implant it, transport and transplant it and last but not least - cook and eat it. At the end of "Blaiberg and Sweetheart 19", this comprehensive theatrical research into the central organ of man and beast, a real Russian marriage broker cuts up and cooks a real pig's heart, strictly according to a recipe from her home country.

The project, premiering in the 'Schiffbau' of the Züricher Schauspielhaus, requires as much explanation as its mysterious title. Blaiberg was the second person to live with another person's heart, after South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard opened his chest and implanted a new organ there in January 1968. Sweetheart 19 is an address for singles who want to look for and find a partner on the Internet. So the project name "Blaiberg and Sweetheart 19" connects spheres that actually touch each other and are supposed to set the sparks flying on stage: the real heart and the metaphorical heart, the motor of circulation and the motor of feeling, both admittedly about to go under for the last time, on the brink of collapse. It's about the ailing heart.

A broad field - and Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel work it with the documentary and journalistic means that have brought them considerable success since 2002 under the name of Rimini Protokoll. They transfer the theatre into reality, when they - as in "Sonde Hannover" - bring their audience into a high-rise building and let them observe the city centre with field glasses. And they transfer reality into the theatre, when they - as in "Wallenstein" during the 2005 Mannheimer Schillertage fill the roles of a play not with actors, but with ordinary people who could be regarded as current counterparts of historical figures. A local CDU politician spoke Schiller's lines about power and powerlessness, for example. In Zurich Rimini Protokoll present a further variety of that which they describe as a "radical socialisation" of the content of theatre. Only people who are affected "in reality" by "affairs of the heart" appear in their most recent piece: a patient and a nurse, a marriage broker and a dating expert, an organ donor and a pig breeding expert - six people who have never been on stage before and now, skilfully arranged, pass on their life stories and their expert knowledge.

Heidi Mettler for example. She has been living with a new heart for over five years. She tells us about the day on which this heart was transplanted into her, how she was woken at 4.15 am by the nurse, what she dreamed the night before and what her son said to her before she was brought into the operating theatre: ‘Take care!’ Her story is interrupted by video clips that precisely follow the progress of a transplant, from the transport of the donor heart in a helicopter up to the switching off of the heart-lung machine after the operation. Renate Behr, who works as a perfusionist in a hospital, explains how this apparatus, which is now brought on stage, works and then changes place with the other experts on stage to provide a new segment of the audience with information. Now Nick Ganz, who organises speed dating evenings, takes centre stage and wants to prove his matchmaking abilities on the spot . . .

The audience learns an enormous amount: thanks to Nick they find out everything about dating agencies, thanks to Heidi, Renate and the surgeons shown on the screens everything about the organ trade and organ transplants. And, thanks to veterinarian Hansueli Bertschinger, everything about pigs: after the Rimini Protokoll directors have already blended the documentary elements from the two areas, thereby setting up a wealth of associations, they then add another mental image, which brings all the elements together. As if it were the urgently needed missing link, they bring in the sow, the sow’s heart, sow-breeding, but again scientifically exactly. The meat market, viewed from a whole different side? At the end, professional single Nick rides a bull with a pig's head, while transplant patient Heidi checks the time and says: "In five minutes I must take my last medicine for today to ensure my heart won't be rejected."

Admittedly the evening suffers in parts from its enormous technical complexity and documentary theatre was not invented by Rimini Protokoll, but the method that the three artists have developed in the past four years works wonderfully. When they rearrange and modify well-researched reality, it begins to set poetic sparks flying.

Further performances in the Züricher Schiffbau on the 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th of April.


Blaiberg and sweetheart19