On German stages, women take control. And the female-led productions pack both a theatrical and a moral punch.

Shortly after the announcement last month that the French writer Annie Ernaux had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, there was a run on the box office at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus here :

All the tickets for the theater's adaptation of Ernaux's 2000 memoir, ''Happening'' sold out.

In Annalisa Engheben's minimal production, the audience sits in an oval formation in a small, blindingly white room in an upper foyer of the Schauspielhaus, one of Hamburg's main theaters.

In the center of the room is a sculptural assemblage of hard plastic limbs : a knotty tangle of arms, legs and buttocks designed by the South Korean set designer Sanghwa Park.

For a little over an hour, the actresses Sandra Gerling, Josefine Israel and Sansha Rau perform around, under and on top of Park's massive sculpture. With calm and steely focus, they collectively recite - although ''conjure''is perhaps a more accurate word - a nightmarish saga.

The adaptation, by Engheben and Finnja Denkewitz, alternates Ernaux's lengthy descriptive, narrative and philosophical passages with, short focused exchanges of dialogue, and does a commendable job of distilling the book's essence.

As the three actresses circle one another, the audience and the central sculpture, they evoke Ernaux's story lucidly and directly through spoken word and body language, as well as simple props, including balls of blue yarn and a bucket of water.

The World Students Society thanks author A.J.Goldman.


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