Marius Leknes Snekkevåg is a young playwright and actor from Oslo, recently living in Berlin to do research and work on his latest script for Haugesund theatre. Trevor Good sat down with him to get to know more about his latest play that was commissioned after his last script “I love you let me go” was selected to be staged as a part of the Norwegian playwright festival 2009. “Rabinowitz” will be performed at Haugesund theatre from april 7th 2011 and directed by Audny Chris Holsen.
Trevor Good: I have never seen one of your plays… but we have discussed them many times so I have a certain mental picture. Do you think the play would somewhat visually match your descriptions or would it be abstracted?
Marius Leknes Snekkevåg: I hope it won`t match what I’ve written! That is how I write; the goal is to make the play as different to what’s on the written page as possible- that always excites me.
In my opinion that makes the script succeed because it means there was a solid enough foundation that the creative team could see new things in it and feel free to add to it.
Do you want this to be an additional layer or a change in direction for your plays?
If you consider the script to be like a map and not the final answer, the choices by the director could be seen as different turns; let’s go left- no wait- let’s go right or try this other way… there is a lot of subtext to what I write but I try my best to give a lot of air around the scenes for others to go a bit wild with their translation of the script.
Your latest script involved a lot of research, it’s based on real people and events. How would a director take liberties, get deep into changes and bringing to light something new when the script seems to be solid in facts and structure?
Well I’m lucky with this play that I was asked to write this and work with a director I have worked with before, so we have good communication, but that still doesn’t matter; a director can turn it into a ballet if they see that as the best way to represent the script. When working with a historical play like this, most people would have a feeling of obligation or commitment to the reality of the events, but it can still be made modern, not an educational play like one would with a high school play or period piece that feels stale. The goal is to modernize it.
Would you direct a play based on one of your scripts?
No. Never. I don’t think any playwright should direct their own plays.
Can you tell me a quick outline of what your latest script is about?
The play is called ‘Rabinowitz’ and is also the last name of the main character Moritz Rabinowitz. He was a Polish Jew that moved to Norway in 1901 to the small town called Haugesund. He quickly became the largest producer and importer of clothing in western Norway. This was a big deal then because at the time Norway was not the rich country as it is today.
He tried to educate people about the Jews and inform about the upcoming war with the Nazis. He was seen as a threat to the Nazis so when they invaded Norway he was captured, brought to Sachsenhausen (his family to Auschwitz and killed) where he was tortured until his death.
Did you include this ending?
Yes but I tried to keep it as clean and simple as possible, stripped down, not too much drama where one wouldn’t be able to watch it.
What about other characters?
The play is supposed to be only 1.5 hours and there are about 40 characters. It’s not a traditional A-Z story but rather a mosaic of scenes where you meet Rabinowitz in Sachsenhausen, in his shop or through debating in the newspapers. I’ve read everything he’s written and the replies from the ones he wrote to; there are definitely characters that could be seen as representing the ‘opposing characters’, such as supporters of anti-Semetism and the Nazi regime, but it’s not about ‘bad-guys’, it’s about people that just let it (the crimes against the Jews in Norway) happen, and not say anything, which is very human; it’s easier to be quiet than to speak up.
Do you think this complete removal of personal responsibility, this thought of ‘I have my own problems so just do what you want with them’ could persist and happen again?
One of the main themes I wanted to put in was ‘us’ against ‘them’, which I call ‘the syndrom’, has existed for all time, since Jesus and before that, with every century having its ‘others’. Now, in Norway, it’s the immigrants and I don’t have to look farther than some in my own family and town how they treat them and speak about them. How sometimes we can even catch ourselves behaving a little bit ‘above’ certain people.
This is pretty much in every country and again a hot topic in the news in Germany.
And to go back to your question, there hasn’t been something like the holocaust but there has been many genocides. So maybe not so structured and as large as the holocaust but it will try to happen; but what is good is the world is more educated as a whole and communications (re: internet) get people mobilized for a cause faster with a better understanding.
But people seem to be less concerned with genocides in Africa than with Global Warming.
Because Global Warming affects one personally. Because we’re egotistical. We’re not evil, we’re just egotistical. I don’t think about Somali pirates because I’m egotistical.
How many plays have you had produced?
This is my 3rd. This is my first play that could be seen as political. I take a stance on the subject.
Did you try to portray your character as a hero?
It’s a bit of a Messiah story. I don’t want to make him a hero. He had a lot of flaws, he was a human being.
Is there a dinner scene and someone turns on him?
Actually there is! But the dinner scene did actually happen; the play is based on actual events. At this dinner he is a guest and people at the dinner start making jokes about Jews right in front of him.
In my first draft I put in as much information as possible from his talks and writings and at some point during editing someone asked if we were supposed to start disliking his character because he talked so much. And this is how people might have seen him back then. He wrote to everyone, to Churchill, to Roosevelt, to all kinds of leaders and I ended up writing both sides of what he was like: passionate, caring but also perhaps too preachy and could not shut-up. But in the end, with whatever power or influence he had, he was a Jew and not taken seriously.
You mention your previous play was picked for a festival in Norway and helped get you some attention and led to being commissioned to write the current script. Can you tell me a bit about it?
It is called ‘I love you let me go’, it`s about relationships, about love and grief. The first couple loses a child and the woman keeps all of his belongings in a box and can’t let go, eventually almost destroying the relationship. The other is a gay couple and it turns out the one man has actually been dead the whole time and is existing only in the mind of his partner. It ended with a long, long, monologue by the man that was dead; it`s an explanation of why he took his own life, not heard by the partner but spoken to the audience.
It got a lot of strong reactions and I’ve never seen anyone bawl like that before! It was a new thing to have the dead character speak about his suicide at the end and I had people coming up to me after that were affected by the play.
Did the character kill himself because of pressures surrounding being gay?
Being gay, no. He was sick, broken. I originally had two straight couples because I didn’t want it to be ‘the gay play’. But I started putting in the gay characters because it would change the world in the way that you’d just say ‘oh, he’s gay’ no big deal. Being gay really has nothing to do with what the play is about.
What comes after Rabinowitz?
I’m not sure what happened but at some point in the middle of writing Rabinowitz I decided to write a trilogy of plays that are all political; political plays about Norway. Maybe living in Berlin and doing the research has somehow turned me more political and I’ve discovered some things about Norway that are not so nice. I used to be such a positive person but now I’ve become much more cynical. I’ve fallen out of love with my own country and that is what I have now to write about.
And finally, how do you feel about translating your work into German and showing it to a German audience? How do you think it would be received here?
The play opens April 7th and I’ll get it translated into German in the meantime, I think it would be refreshing for Germans to see because it is not about the evilness of Nazis but they are rather more a backdrop to the actions, or lack of action, and mentality of the Norwegians. It would be interesting for people to see what happened to the history of Norway in relation to this small local story and the second world war.
Interview and photography: Trevor Good