(1878-1945) German playwright whose work – about seventy plays in all – was central to the German Expressionist movement in the theatre from before World War One; he also wrote the text for three operas by Kurt Weill (1900-1950). After the formally unadventurous Die Korale: Schauspiel in Fünf Akten (performed 1917, Munich; 1917; trans Winifred Katzin as The Coral 1963), which comprises the first part of what would become known as the Gas Trilogy, came Gas: Schauspiel in Fünf Akten (performed 28 November 1918 Neues Theater, Frankfurt; 1918; trans Hermann George Scheffauer as Gas, a Play in Five Acts performed 24 November 1923 Birmingham Repertory Theatre; 1924), and Gas, Zweiter Tell: Schauspiel in drei Akten (performed 29 October 1920 Vereinigte Deutsche Theater, Brno, Czechoslovakia; 1920; trans anon as "Gas II" performance not established in Modern Continental Plays 1929) [for other trans see Checklist], the second drama set in an abstract Expressionist Near Future, and the third, even more jaggedly pared down, some years later.
In their exclamatory renderings of the dire consequences of transforming Aftermath Europe into a Dystopian industry-dominated continent-spanning tyranny, the trilogy depicts a post-World War One landscape not dissimilar to that described by Owen Gregory in Meccania, the Super State (1918), or by Milo Hastings in City of Endless Night (1920); and it is likely Gas influenced Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in the creation of Metropolis (1926). Each play in the trilogy is autonomous. In Gas I, the Son of a Billionaire runs a giant plant which produces a new kind of gas, a Power Source that soon becomes essential to the industrial well-being of the entire planet; profoundly distressed by the automatism of the new worker in this new world, for they have come to resemble the Machines they service, the Son blows the plant up, and in the confusion generated by his refusal to rebuild he is killed. In Gas II, which is set deeper into the Near Future while something like World War Two rages in the background, the Son's grandson discovers that the gas can also be used as a universal poison, and, going his grandfather one better, destroys the rebuilt plant with a new bomb that essentially causes the End of the World.
Gats: Drei Akte ["Gats: Three Acts"] (1925), also set in the Near Future, describes the consequences of using the eponymous Drug (or substance: it is not clearly described) to control Overpopulation. Set in more vaguely designated future period, one of Kaiser's last completed dramas, Oktobertag (performed 13 March 1928 Kammerspiele, Hamburg; 1928; trans Herman Bernstein and Adolph Erich Meyer as The Phantom Lover first performed 4 September 1928, New York: 1928), depicts in comparatively anodyne form the development of Utopia spurred by the power of love. The Nazis banned his plays in 1933, and in 1938 Kaiser moved to Switzerland, where his final plays were fantasy verse dramas on classic Greek themes, rather like those of his contemporary, Gerhart Hauptmann; they were published as Griechische Dramen: Pygmalion; Zweimal Amphitryon; Bellerophon ["Greek Dramas: Pygmalion; Double Amphitryon; Bellerophon"] (omni 1948). [JC]
Friedrich Carl Georg Kaiser
born Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany: 25 November 1878
died Ascona, Switzerland: 4 June 1945
works (highly selected)
- Die Koralle: Schauspiel in fünf Akten (Berlin: S Fischer Verlag, 1917) [play: first performed 1917, Munich: Gas Trilogy: binding unknown/]
- The Coral (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1963) [trans by Winifred Kazin of the above: Gas Trilogy: hb/]
- Gas: Schauspiel in Fünf Akten (Berlin: S Fischer Verlag, 1918) [play: first performed 28 November 1918 Neues Theater, Frankfurt: Gas Trilogy: binding unknown/]
- Gas, a Play in Five Acts (London: Chapman and Dodd, 1924) [play: chap: first performed 24 November 1923 Birmingham Repertory Theatre: trans by Hermann George Scheffauer of the above: Gas Trilogy: pb/nonpictorial]
- Gas, Zweiter Tell: Schauspiel in drei Akten (Potsdam, Germany: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, 1920) [play: first performed 29 October 1920 Vereinigte Deutsche Theater, Brno, Czechoslovakia: Gas Trilogy: binding unknown/]
- "Gas II" in Modern Continental Plays (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1929) edited by S Marion Tucker [plays: anth: first performance not established: trans Winifred Katzin of the above: Gas Trilogy: hb/]
- Gas II: A Play in Three Acts (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1963) [play: chap: trans by Winifred Katzin of the above: not known if this trans is revised: Gas Trilogy: pb/]
- Die Koralle: Gas: Gas II: Gats (Potsdam, Germany: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag, 1928) [omni of the above three titles plus Gats below: in the publisher's Gesammelte Werke series: Gas Trilogy: hb/]
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