„National Anthems”, the New Play at the English Theatre of Hamburg

By Uta Buhr

 And the winner is….

The Reeds holding court with Ben

It goes without saying from the very first moment. The owners of this posh apartment in suburban Detroit are members of the moneyed American middleclass. Arthur and Leslie Reed have just “held court” for their well-heeled friends and are now clearing their spacious living room from the left-overs of the party. While Arthur, dressed in an expensive Armani suit – 1,900 bucks – just imagine – checks the latest market quotations and his mails on his iPhone, Leslie tries to learn Japanese with the help of a pair of earphones. The extremely loud music from two hidden boxes does not seem to disturb Mr. and Mrs. Middleclass America in their activities. They do not even notice that a stranger is knocking hard at their door. Ben Cook, a neighbour, who lives a couple of blocks away from the Reeds, has just dropped by to say hallo to the newcomers to the community. Ben being a simple fireman, is duly impressed by the wealth so lavishly exposed by Arthur, the lawyer and his spouse who works as a teacher at a near-by school. Since social climbers like Arthur and Leslie love to demonstrate  their superiority over less successful people such as Ben, they explain in detail how much their furniture and his BMW has cost them and how much they enjoy drinking beer imported from Denmark. Not to forget that Arthur is about to buy a Porsche, sort of Nobel prize for winners in modern society.  In the face of these riches poor Ben is feeling more and more uncomfortable and tries to compensate his “inferiority” by demonstrating on his part some magical tricks. Arthur is not impressed and states that he can do much better. Of course, he  is not amused when it becomes clear that he is unable to compete with Ben. While Arthur  and Leslie try to get rid of their unwelcome visitor, Ben becomes more and more self-confident and even insists that his high school football team was by far better than that of Arthur’s.

Listen fellow, we are the winners

This statement drives Arthur crazy. My god, how dare “that loser” challenge him in this impertinent way! All of a sudden, both men are rolling on the floor while Leslie – the former cheerleader of a football team – is performing a smashing pantomime. The young woman is obviously greatly enjoying the scene. Both men desperately try to win the game. Arthur finally ends the childish competition by proclaiming how he is vastly superior to Ben in the real world and that Ben’s modest existence as a fireman is nothing worthwhile to be talked about.

But Ben has a card up his sleeve that really counts. Very recently he has  tried to rescue a woman in a blazing fire. Although he was hailed by the public as a hero, he lost his job since he did not obey to the directions of his boss. After all, the local paper published an article about his heroic deed on page 42! Proudly he produces the crumpled page from his breast pocket. While Leslie is impressed, Arthur argues that all the fuzz about the rescue of a woman – a black one at that – was too much in his opinion. What a dirty racist! Before risking his own life Ben just saw a human being in the fire, the colour of the woman’s skin was absolutely unimportant to him. Who is the winner of the play – rich narcissistic Arthur or Ben, the modest kind-hearted fellow. This to decide is entirely up to you, dear spectator. Come and enjoy this outstanding and turbulent play.

Wrestling for fame

A couple of years ago, an American theatre went on treasure hunt and rediscovered “National Anthems”, a play written by Dennis McIntyre, an author who most unfortunately died of stomach cancer in February, 1990, at the age of 47. During his relatively short life, McIntyre wrote box-office hits such as “Modigliani,”, “Split second”, “The Divine Child” and “Noble.” The Hollywood production of “State of Grace” even starred great actors like Sean Pen and Gary Oldman. When reading the title, most people will automatically associate the play with 9/11. However, “National Anthems” has nothing to do with terrorism, the military, a police state or free-floating paranoia. “Anthem” is derived from the Greek word “antiphonos” which  – in Ancient Greece – described a religious song dedicated to the Gods. Since money and sports are very important criteria in the American Way of Life – almost religious themes – the title of the play is well chosen. Maybe the author also had the two different biographies of his protagonists in mind – on the one hand the successful but heartless lawyer Arthur, and on the other good-natured but less successful Ben. Two different “emotional countries” – thus two different anthems.

Congratulations again, dear Robert Rumpf, for choosing three extraordinary actors for this play –  attractive Tanya Winsor – a spitting image of young Catherine Deneuve – in the part of Leslie Reed and Miles Western as her arrogant husband Arthur. The Oscar goes to Gareth Cook who played Ben Cook with a nearly devastating intensity. Chapeau!

Final performance of “National Anthems” on June 28, 2014. Tickets under phone number

040 – 227 70 89, online booking www.englishtheatre.de

Next premiere on September 4,  2014,  after the theatre holiday is “The Whipping Man” by American playwright Matthew Lopez.