Danton's Death – Take 1
by Georg Büchner in a new original translation by Katrin Hilbe
Best known for his unfinished work Woyzeck, Büchner wrote Danton’s Death in the early months of 1835 at the incredible age of twenty-one. The play has been called the best “first play” in all of dramatic literature. At the time, its author was a medical student and simultaneously an instigator of revolution in his native Hessen, where he organized the Society of Human Rights for which he wrote an incendiary pamphlet addressed to the peasants of the principality that begins: “PEACE TO COTTAGES! WAR TO PALACES!” His father, fearful that his precocious son might be arrested, grounded him in his room and forced him to study for his medical exams. However, Büchner's brother stood watch at the door while Georg feverishly wrote out Danton´s Death, hiding the script under his anatomy notes whenever his father came to check on him.
This urgency is in the bloodstream of the drama, which takes place in Paris at the height of the “Reign of Terror”, between mid-March and April 5, 1794, the date of the beheading of Georg Danton and his followers. We follow them from the first threats they received, their imprisonment, their fixed hearings, and finally their execution.
For all intents and purposes, Georg Danton was a hero of the Revolution. In the play he is weary of the fights and bloodshed, but incredulous of what is happening to him. “They won’t dare” is his mantra, and only when he finds himself in prison does he realize that he has to fight for a life that he thought he was tired of. We see him and his friends look around themselves, at their loves, passions, and discover what has happened to their hopes and dreams. Danton’s Death is a sad piece, a beautiful piece, a moving piece, full of food for thought about political visions and their visionaries, as told through fascinating, complex characters.
Co-produced with: Michael Chekhov Theatre Company
Directed by: Katrin Hilbe
Associate Producer: Arienne Pelletier
Dates: December 8, 14, 15, 2009
Venue: 45th Street Theater
354 W 45th Street, NYC
Photo by Elisha Schaefer.