Opinion | Why Elfriede Jelinek’s Trump Play Might Just Make Waves

While others may debate whether art is, or should be, political, Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek has never been in doubt.

Through much of her work, she has portrayed the pathologies she saw in post-war Austria, suffocating under a conspiracy of silence, an inability to confront its role in the horrors of National Socialism.

She saw this as a society-wide denial that led to a litany of emotional distortions. Human perversity, Jelinek tells us, is a direct result of self-deception, of a flight from reality, and the explosion of unresolved inner conflicts in people living with unspoken, intolerable truths.

So it’s hardly surprising that she has taken on Donald Trump in a new play On the Royal Road: The Burgher King (Der Königsweg), which had its first public presentation in an English translation on March 24 at the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at the City University of New York, six months ahead of the German-language premiere at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus.

One line: “We all reject him. The king knows it, but doesn’t believe it’s true.” Actress Masha Dakic who did the New York reading found the text disconcertingly powerful, as if she were “standing in front of an abstract painting.” There is in fact something cubist about Donald Trump, a figure in the glare of the spotlights, the image splintering into a dozen of sets, like the layered frames of a film that has jumped the sprockets. It’s hard to measure the power of art, but Jelinek’s voice may be one that is heard.

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Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of Metropole. She has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler (NYC), the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two U.S. ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching (Media & Communications).

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