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In play, emperor's grip on power, reality loosens

By Peter McDermott

Brendan Connellan's plays deal with humanity's foolishness and that, he said, is an "ongoing story."

But when writing his latest, which began on Monday, he couldn't have known that it would be so topical when it came time to stage it.

For "Alles Muss Raus!," being about the delusional Kaiser Wilhelm II clinging on in 1918 after Germany's defeat in the Great War, has obvious parallels with today's Middle East.

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"Somehow, Qaddafi has been in power for over 40 years. What does that say about him? About his own people?" said the Dubliner Connellan. "About people like Tony Blair and Sarkozy and Berlusconi that wooed him and shook his hand and invited him to dine? Even about us?"

Connellan gave up his Wall Street job last year to concentrate on writing plays. "Alles Muss Raus!" (in English "Everything Must Go!") is the last of the four productions he committed himself to staging at the Manhattan Theatre Source by this spring.

Competition and the battle for survival have been common themes in all of them, but the focus of the fourth is specifically about power.

"How one gets it and how one holds it. Also, what people might do to get it. This new piece is concerned with the shift in power," Connellan said.

At the outset the German emperor is very much in control, but when he loses his grip even the court painter changes sides in a bid to retain his job.

"Wilhelm's generals told him Germany was beaten and that he needed to step aside. Not only did he refuse to do this, he wouldn't even pick up the telephone for further discussion," Connellan said. "Such childishness. And millions of his own men had died in a fight he himself had sanctioned.

Underlying his approach is the "sense of wonder that such ridiculous people could be in power and have no sense themselves of how unmerited it might be, which makes it even more dangerous."

Like Shakespeare's King Lear, Connellan said, it is only through humiliation that the Kaiser gains any self-knowledge.

History is but a "coat-hanger" for the playwright. He said: "I like to use certain truthful details but prefer to present the piece as a more comedic address of human frailties rather than one in which I need get all the little facts right. In short, I take a great deal of license.

"I don't worry about accents or costumes, since I believe the themes to be both universal and timeless. The fact that Kaiser Wilhelm might look or sound like me just underlines how close to the bone the inferences are for us all.

"We are all ridiculous. We forever choose to delude ourselves because the truth happens to be unflattering," said Connellan, a sometime standup comedian. "And I try and do it through humor, so that the audience can laugh but still feel the barbs and still shift uncomfortably in their seats. There is no hero and villain as such."

"Alles Muss Raus!" plays this week at Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal St., every night this week through Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m, with an additional matinee on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. Tickets ($18) are available online at or by calling 866-811 4111.