Georg Kaiser

Georg KaiserBorn November 25, 1878, in Magdeburg, Germany, Georg Kaiser was to become the leader of the expressionist movement in theatre which called for the expression of the inner experience rather than the outer reality, or rather the expression of reality as distorted by the writer's own inner experience. The movement opened the door for all manner of new techniques including juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, rapidly shifting scenes, and larger-than-life, dreamlike characters.

Kaiser wrote his first plays during a lengthy convalescence. They were labeled "games of ideas" by the critic Julius Bab. His first real success came with The Burghers of Calais, an appeal for peace which was written in 1913, but not performed until 1917 during the height of World War I. Also produced that year was From Morn to Midnight (1917), a popular piece in which Kaiser satirized the cheapness and futility of modern society. His hero, a kind of machine-age Everyman, searches everywhere for some kind of fulfillment--in commercial sex, in salvationist religion--but discovers through a series of nightmarish episodes that the world is deceitful and illusory. In the end, disillusioned and pursued by the police, he takes his own life.

In Kaiser's famous trilogy of plays--Coral (1917), Gas I (1918), and Gas 2 (1920)--he once again creates an Everyman who tries desperately to convince workers to trade in their hollow, meaningless jobs at the gas company for life in a green-field settlement. The workers, however, turn a deaf ear to his pleas. In the end, the hero's son discovers that the plant is producing poison gas, and attempting to follow in his father's footsteps, destroys the plant in a huge explosion. The trilogy painted an effective expressionist picture of modern civilization--hollow, mechanized, overcome with opportunistic greed, and rushing headlong towards its own destruction.

In 1938, the Nazis banned Kaiser's plays, and he went into exile in Switzerland. Although he abandoned expressionism, he continued to write, most notably, The Raft of the Medusa (1945), based on an actual occurrence which had been reported in the Swiss papers, in which 13 children on a little raft drown the youngest to avoid bad luck. Kaiser died on June 4, 1945, in Ascona, Switzerland. He left behind more than 60 plays including The Phantom Lover (1928), The Tsar Has His Photo Taken (1928) with music by Kurt Weill, Two Ties (1929) with music by Mischa Spoliansky, Silverlake (1933) also with music by Kurt Weill, The Gardener of Toulouse (1938), and Alain und Elise (1940).

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Kaiser's Plays  |  Biographies/Studies


Kaiser's Plays


Related Sites

German Theatre Index

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