Photo by Ben van Duin

IN 1933, A CHILDLIKE BRICKLAYER FROM LEIDEN, HOLLAND, decides to walk to China. That being too far, he settles for Germany, where he finds unemployment and misery en masse. Dreaming of and agitating for a society that is equal for all, he is eventually sentenced to death by the Nazis. This is the scenario for Quick Lime, based on the life of Marinus van der Lubbe, the quixotic revolutionary reputed to have set fire to the Reichstag. The much-heralded one-man show will be performed in its U.S. premiere at UCLA by Fedja van Huêt, and directed by Paul Koek and Johan Simons, co-artistic directors of the Dutch theater troupe ZT Hollandia. (UCLA presented the company earlier this year with a different one-man show, Voices.)

Koek spoke to the Weekly from the Netherlands.

L.A. WEEKLY: Is there a prominent, driving impulse behind the creation of Quick Lime?

PAUL KOEK: We had a political accident that had the shock of a murder last year when the right wing almost got into power. That is not a reason to do the Quick Lime piece, but it's the right time to do it. Yet we did the piece more because, in Holland, we forgot Marinus. He was just an accident in 1933, but maybe we can give him his portrait. We started with the character of this workingman who would try to stop a fight and then get cut with somebody else's knife. He lived on so little money and was always struggling to find food, and once he tried to swim to England across the Channel. So people in Holland love him and laugh at him at the same time. He tried to make Leiden a social haven for little children, so he played a kind of theater with them, but always in revolutionary plays. So suddenly they were playing at demonstrations. He was really serious about wanting to walk to China to see what it was like and then, maybe after 1,000 kilometers, he thought, Well, it's really a long way to China; okay, maybe I'll stay in Germany, then. Of course, the moment that he set fire to Hitler's Reichstag, still he thought, Well, it was not so heavy what I did. He didn't understand that the Communists used him, and the Socialists used him by saying the other party was using him for political purposes.

You're a scholar of contemporary music. In creating Quick Lime, did you start with the music or the language?

We started with trying to get at a language that could be understood by people who don't normally go to the theater. The language is based on Marinus' own diaries, on his own way of seeing the world. It immediately goes not into your intellect but into your stomach. We find it very important to stay away from literary language. Then this ordinary language can have music around it, because the music is playing a kind of subtext, there's a climate.

Will you perform in Dutch?

We will perform it in English, in a translation from England, so we think then it stays a little more European.

How long have you been with the company?

I've been in [Theatergroep Hollandia] for 19 years now. We've played in all of Europe. [Theatergroep Hollandia merged with Het Zuidelijk Toneel in January 2001.]

Were you ever in Los Angeles?

I tried to be a student at CalArts, but it cost me too much money. At the same time, I had the chance to work with Johan [Simons] and build a company here. So that's what I did.

Quick Lime will be presented at UCLA's Ralph Freud Playhouse on Wednesday, October 23, at 8 p.m., then Friday and Saturday, October 25 and 26, at 8 p.m. Call (310) 825-2101 or visit www.uclalive.org.

LA Weekly