I saw the last performance of THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN on Sunday afternoon at BAM, with the memory of the Fassbinder film from many years ago still vivid in my mind. Rainer Werner Fassbinder was one of the great naturalists of the cinema, and Braun was perhaps his most romantic work, lush and polished in its imagery rather than gritty and pallid, using the life, loves and economic choices of the title character as a metaphor for the psycho-historical development of post-WWII Germany.

Indeed, Thomas Ostermeier’s stage rendition reminded me that beneath the glamour of the story and the imagery of the film lay a dark sexual politics and a disturbing political economy. The sleek, jumbled elegance of the mid-century modernist chairs and tables that made up the set, and the strong cast, including the sensuous and charismatic Brigette Hobmeier as Maria, bit by bit won me over, extinguishing an early resistance I had to the idea of rehashing once again the genesis and heritage of Nazism and the problematic morality of post-war American dominance. (As a key episode in the play makes clear, Ugly Americans are still Ugly Americans, even when they appear in the first instance as liberators.)

Ostermeier has a knack for making theatre that is both forthright and enigmatic at the same time, speaking one stark truth after another but leaving room, somehow, for the ambiguity that is at the heart of the truths he lays before you.

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