“To wrestle with the difficulties of communication, and the endless conundrum of how impossible it can be to say “I love you” to the people we really fucking care about.”
This is how Madelaine Bixler (class of 2017) describes her exploration of human nature in her first play, The Klaus Conundrum. The piece was written as Bixler’s final project in Cherrie Moraga’s Intensive Playwriting class. Luckily, Patty Hamilton (class of 2016) was also in the class. In passing, Hamilton mentioned to Bixler that if the play was ever being put on, she would love to direct. And that is how the production came to be in the living room of Haus Mitt, the room bathed in lighting from white Christmas lights and featuring a sparse set.
The Klaus Conundrum is a series of vignettes following a family of three- Klaus, Gertrude, and Hendrick- as they navigate their relationships with one another over 25 years. Klaus and Gertrude flee to the United States during the Cold War pursuing a better future. Klaus has aspirations of being a composer. As Gertrude says, “he has symphonies in his eyes”. His love of music shuts him off from reality, from Gertrude and their son Hendrick. Eventually, Klaus’ obsession with being a tragic artist drives Gertrude back to Germany. The relationship between Klaus and Hendrick is fraught- Hendrick is starved for Klaus’ attention, while Klaus wants Hendrick to be independent. The vignettes are not in chronological order, they skip through time to piece together the family dynamic. Hendrick is left to take care of his father. They try to communicate, but fail save for the occasional moment of poignant thought. By the end, nothing has been resolved but there is a feeling of peace. I won’t ruin it, but I cried. So be warned.
The cast of this show deserves special recognition. Mac Abruzzo (’16) plays Klaus, bringing piteous pain to the character. You can see the longing and devastation in the way he exudes the complicated Klaus. Kaya McRuer (’16) plays Gertrude with a true sense of tragedy. Mac and Kaya get special shout-outs for doing the entire show in fantastically realistic German accents. Carson Hicks (’16) plays Hendrick, both as a child and an adult. You can see in his acting the struggle between the love and the disdain he harbors for his father.
The unspoken star of the show is Dylan Hunn (’16), who wrote the score for the show and plays his compositions live. His piano music emanates feeling, which perfectly matches the somber tone. Artfully used in the show, the music establishes itself as its own character in a manner that is as poignant as it is seamless.
For me, the power behind this piece is not necessarily the words, but the silence between them. The subtleties behind the text are exquisite. What is it about our deepest feelings that makes them the hardest to express to the people we love the most? As Gertrude says, “Love has never been easy for anyone”. I wanted so badly to stand up and scream “You love each other, damnit! Get to family therapy!” This play personally affected me because it reminded me of interactions I’ve had with my own family- instances when I’ve said “Why did you burn the pie” when I really meant “I feel like you don’t love me’.
I have to say this play exceeded my expectations. When I heard there was a student-written play being put on in a small venue with mostly floor seating, I wasn’t too excited. After seeing it, I am totally converted. It is completely sold out for every run, but try to get on the waitlist. It is totally worth it.
Photo credits: Jae-Young Son