About the Production
A story of youth trapped in a closed society, Purgatory In Ingolstadt by Marieluise Fleisser depicts a world dominated by church order and traditional gender roles. Bereft of stable mentoring, students bully, spy, embrace and reject each other in rapid succession. The action focuses on two young outsiders, Roelle and Olga, each of whom tries to escape the confines of their society—one with public delusions of grandeur, the other by allying herself with men who might help her. It is a rough and dirty play contained within an austere shell.
Writing in 1926, a then 25-year-old Fleisser was responding to personal experiences in her hometown of Ingolstadt, Germany, capturing the post-war social tensions of the Weimar Republic. Her energetic script mixes expressionism, neo-realism, and religious references to destroy the guise of moral purity in her world. In so doing, she reveals a community based on fear, jealousy, apathy, and brutality and foreshadows the rise of the Nazis.
About the Playwright
Marieluise Fleisser’s life and works were shaped by a turbulent relationship to her birthplace, the Lower Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, Germany. Staunchly Catholic, with a long ecclesiastical tradition, Ingolstadt was also a great military hub until the Treaty of Versailles compelled the disbanding of Germany’s army. Despite a will to break from the confines of Ingolstadt, Fleisser was tethered to her city, returning again and again after failure, hardship, and loss, ultimately to die there at the age of 73. Early in her life, Fleisser wrote two plays about Ingolstadt: the second, Combat Engineers in Ingolstadt, excoriated the city’s post-Versailles military presence, and made her overnight the most notorious and maligned woman in the Weimar Republic, and the first, Purgatory in Ingolstadt, scrutinized the city’s stifling provincial Catholicism, and nearly fifty years after its premiere, secured her as one of Germany’s most important female writers.
Born in November 1901 to a working-class family, Fleisser was the only one of her four siblings to attend high school. Her father was determined she would use her talents to become a teacher and sent her to a convent school where she received a conservative and conventional education. In her short story “Poor Luise” (later retitled “Ballad of the Young Lady from a Catholic School”, Fleisser wrote of her experience in the convent school, “...everything I learned there is bad for my life. I was raised to obey, and they taught me never to reveal anything I felt or wanted.“ Fleisser struggled her entire life against this education and the strictures of the provincial society into which she was born.
Despite her father’s wishes, Fleisser enrolled at the University of Munich and studied theatrical science under the prominent dramatic researcher, Arthur Kutscher. Through him, she was introduced to Leon Fuchtwanger and eventually to Bertolt Brecht in 1924. She quickly became Brecht’s lover and collaborator. In 1926, Brecht produced a matinee performance of Purgatory in Ingolstadt in Berlin, under the direction of Moriz Seeler who changed the play’s title from its original: The Washing of the Feet. Although the reviews of Purgatory were mixed, two prominent critics praised Fleisser as a new dramatist with tremendous potential. Brecht seized this momentum and encouraged Fleisser to write a companion play, Combat Engineers in Ingolstadt which he would then edit and direct, advancing his theories of Epic Theatre. Determined that the play be a success, Brecht aggravated Fleisser’s delicate exposé of the intolerance that went hand-in-hand with bourgeois values and injected strong anti-militarism and sexual sensationalism into the play. Unhappy with the direction, Fleisser stayed away from the final rehearsals. Brecht reveled in the scandal that erupted from the first performance, but Fleisser bore the brunt of it—scorned both nationally and locally by her fellow townspeople in Ingolstadt, she was accused of betraying Germany and perverting German womanhood.
Fleisser ended her relationship with Brecht shortly thereafter and returned to Ingolstadt, despite being labeled a pariah. Isolated and desperate, she sought refuge with the unsuccessful writer Hellmuth Draws-Tychsen, a man who was more interested in using her reputation to help launch his own career than in forming a lasting, loving partnership. Unwilling to write plays that would pass the growing Nazi censorship, Fleisser languished, and attempted suicide. Draws, realizing she was no longer of use to him, soon left her. She once again returned to Ingolstadt, shunned and reviled by her neighbors.
In 1935, she married a former lover, Joseph Haindl, a boorish local athletic star and tobacco business owner. She gave up her literary career to assist him with the business, and a few years later suffered a nervous breakdown. Despite her delicate condition, during the Second World War she was conscripted into national service and worked at a local armaments plant where her fellow workers constantly harangued her for having written scurrilously unpatriotic plays. At the war’s end, she was falsely accused as a black-marketeer and jailed by the Americans.
After Haindl’s death in 1958, Fleisser was finally free to write again, and spent the next decade in Ingolstadt writing four short stories based on her past. In the late 1960s, she revisited her pre-war writings, revising their language and style, and strengthening the aspects which anticipated the rise of the Nazis. Shortly before her death, she experienced a resurgence of interest in her work, led by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Franz Xaver Kroetz, and Peter Stein, whose masterful staging of Purgatory in Ingolstadt in 1972 established him as a formidable German director. Although Fleisser is now regarded as one of the most important German dramatists of the early 20th century, her work has yet to be widely produced outside of Germany.