The identity of the actual Kaspar Hauser remains a mystery to this day. What is known is that, in 1828, a teenage boy was discovered in the town square in Nürnberg—an urban feral-child barely able to walk, with no words but his name and the sentence, "I want to be a rider like my father." After learning to speak, he revealed that he had been reared in a small cell, kept in darkness and fed on bread and water, until his captors turned him loose with his minuscule vocabulary. German political factions attempted to represent him as a lost son to the Grand Duke of Baden—a claim that was never proven, but which may have led to his murder in 1833.
A sweet, romantic tragedy could have been forged from this story, but Peter Handke has a different agenda for this much-exploited waif. Kaspar opens with the title character staggering over the stage on legs unaccustomed to ambulatory movement and reciting his lonely refrain, paraphrased by Handke as "I want to be a person like somebody else was once." We witness—by my count—28 repetitions of this drill before a trio of android-like instructors arrive to play linguistic games on pretext of developing his verbal skills.
Following an exhaustive session of wordscramble exercises—in which sentences are dissected and rearranged in steadily decreasing fragments, all scored for four-part vocal harmony—they are joined by a quintet of silent clowns costumed in imitation of the information-glutted student. While Kaspar proudly proclaims his successful adjustment, these whimsical zanni proceed to contribute aural and visual distraction until all collapse in existential laughter.
Handke takes about an hour longer than necessary to make his point—that Conformity Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be and that language may be used to confuse, manipulate and—gasp!—corrupt. Under Marc Collins' direction, the TinFish cast struggle valiantly to keep the action immediate and engaging.
But even if Handke's observations were any more timely in 2001 than in 1968, his illustrative methods would render them blurred and ultimately soporific. Confronted simultaneously with information imparted through intellectual ( language ) and sensory ( sight, sound, etc. ) means, the latter will always dominate the former. With all his analytical insights into the nature of communication, how could Handke have overlooked this essential principle?